Editorial: Not quite ready to roll the credits

  • The Arlington Theaters is one recent casualty, with its demise partly attiributed to the cost of going digital.

    The Arlington Theaters is one recent casualty, with its demise partly attiributed to the cost of going digital.

The Daily Herald Editorial Board
Updated 7/18/2012 9:59 AM

We love happy endings.

Sure, they're cinema clichés, but feel-good finales like those in films like "When Harry Met Sally," "It's a Wonderful Life" or "Field of Dreams" are impossible to resist.


That's what we're searching for in the real-life hard-luck tale facing some suburban movie theaters.

Sometimes independent, often in historic downtown settings and frequently beloved in their communities, these theaters are among the last to hang on to celluloid at a time when the megaplexes long ago went digital.

Now, those days of giant reels and real projectionists are at an end, as Daily Herald Staff Writer Anna Kukec wrote Tuesday. Distributors are going to stop providing film to theaters sometime next year. Movies will come digitized onto hard drives.

That's a big problem for owners of some smaller movie theaters who'll have a hard time coming up with the minimum $70,000 per screen to cover the cost of digital equipment.

One casualty, the six-screen Arlington Theaters in downtown Arlington Heights, closed last week after director of operations John Scaletta said negotiations over renewing the lease and installing digital technology broke down.

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Others could follow. "You might as well say if you're not going to do this, you're going out of business next year," said Eric White, manager of the four-screen Glen Art Theatre in Glen Ellyn, which is going digital at a cost of $400,000.

Our communities have a stake in keeping such theaters alive. Often, they anchor downtowns and offer a unique sense of place and history, plus they keep entertainment dollars local and bolster neighboring eateries and shops.

Local governments can't do anything about the cost of installing the new digital equipment, but they might lend a hand with expertise in financing (some of which is offered by film distributors), ideas, or even simple reminders to residents that their patronage is crucial. Local business or arts groups might also work with movie theater owners to come up with strategies to help make the digital investment possible.

Newspaper articles describe theaters' creative fundraising efforts elsewhere, from sales of "The Show Must Go On" T-shirts to renting out theater space as an event venue off-hours. A nonprofit group is seeking to buy digital equipment and lease it back to a Washington state single-screen theater, the Seattle Times reports.

"We've been lucky enough to have a loyal group of moviegoers that love this theater," said Tim O'Connor, co-owner of The Catlow in Barrington, who is looking at options for going digital.

Now's the time for suburban movie fans to show that loyalty to their local cinema. Don't forget the lesson from another movie plot standby, in which characters from Scarlett O'Hara to Dorothy Gale learn what they've got only after it's gone.

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