Is digital better on the big screen?

Friday, August 3, 2012, Vol. 36, No. 31
By Hollie Deese

Belcourt Theatre is part of an art house film group that plans the Art House Convergence conference every year in conjunction with the Sundance Institute. Digital conversion has been a hot topic at the conference as more and more theaters make the move.

“There is tons of debate,” says Stephanie Silverman, executive director of the non-profit Belcourt Theatre. “People have started to convert in independent houses and think one film looks beautiful in digital, another not so much. It can be gorgeous, but I think the image is a little flatter and it loses something that we expect to see in 35mm, which is somewhat hard to articulate.”

There are benefits, like a brighter, more colorful picture, as well as tradeoffs such as an unstable hard drive that leaves the projectionist with hands tied.

And despite the easy operation pitched to Silverman – “simply press play” – digital films require just as much finesse in showing and skill from the projectionist as 35mm. Plus, many new projectors have hard lenses that need to be switched out for 2D or 3D films. If not, the film will appear dim to the viewer.

“People are discovering now that these projectors are in their theaters is that you still need skilled projectionists to make the pictures beautiful,” Silverman says. “We are not in the ‘press play’ business. We are in a high-quality, exhibition business, and that better be the most beautiful image possible.

“I am sure when we do it, it will be beautiful. But we still love getting movies in cans and putting them up on reels and showing them on 35mm. It is really in our DNA.”