We live in a pixelated world. Much of our day is spent staring at watches, laptops, desktops, iPods, and iPads that offer up digitized video, newsfeeds, and Facebook posts. These pixels are even dominating the biggest screens of all, as more and more movie theaters abandon film for the convenience and cost savings of digital projection. But there remain purists, for whom the flicker and luster of film remains a vital component of the movie-going experience. Quentin Tarantino, for instance, once blasted digital projection, dismissing it as “just television in cinema” and predicting it would lead to the death of movies.
Well the “Pulp Fiction” director and his partisans should mark their calendars. Alamo Drafthouse is partnering with Kodak on the first-ever “Reel Film Day,” a celebration of 35mm film. Both companies say they see the advantages of digitization, but they also want to celebrate the look, flavor, and art of celluloid.
“It’s a sensory thing,” said Steve Bellamy, president of Kodak Motion Picture and Entertainment. “It really creates an organic, almost 3D tapestry of an image on screen. Consciously you may not notice it, but subconsciously, it’s a radically different experience.”
Digitization is not a trend that shows any signs of abating. It’s cheaper for studios to ship digital prints and movie theaters are able to offer 3D and other premium formats through digital projectors, which allows them to charge higher prices. More than 90% of the world’s cinema screens are now digital. Alamo Drafthouse, an independently owned theater chain, has digital projectors, but it has made a point of preserving film projection, as well. Thirteen of its 25 locations have film projectors. Owner Tim League notes that having film projection is also about preserving history — less than 5% of films exist in high-definition digital form and some movies from certain eras could not be seen, because they have not been digitized. He worries that just as the vast majority of silent films have been lost, many important works could similarly slip through the cracks as the world of movies becomes more streamable and downloadable.
“If you’re a real cinephile, you have to believe in the importance of preserving 35mm or 70mm presentation,” said League. “You have to make the investment. Without film projection, there is no film history.”
To encourage interest in film projection, Alamo will show a number of films from the likes of Tarantino, Orson Welles, and Michael Powell. Art boutique Mondo has created an exclusive line of T-shirts and enamel pins to mark the day. It all goes down on March 5 (a play on 3/5 for 35 mm).
Here’s a list of participating Alamo Drafthouse locations and their programming:
Austin Lakeline – “Inglourious Basterds”
Austin Lamar – “Touch of Evil”
Austin Ritz – “Silence of the Lambs”
Brooklyn – “Frownland”
Dallas Cedars – “Inglourious Basterds”
Kansas City – “Kill Bill” double feature
Littleton – “The Red Shoes” (1948)
Lubbock – “Heat”
Mason Park – “35mm Roulette”
Omaha – “Buckaroo Banzai”
Richardson – “Matinee” (1993)
San Francisco – “King Lear” (1987)
Yonkers – “The Muppets Take Manhattan”
Partner venues and programming:
Boulder, CO – International Film Series – “Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory”
Brookline, MA – The Coolidge Corner Theatre – “From Russia With Love”
Chicago, IL – The Music Box Theater – “Punch-Drunk Love” and “Lonesome” double feature
Cleveland, OH – The Cleveland Museum of Art – “The Docks of New York” with live music
Cleveland, OH – Cleveland Cinematheque – “1984”
Houston, TX – The Museum of Fine Arts – “I am Cuba”
Milwaukee, WI – UW-Milwaukee Union Cinema – “Pan’s Labyrinth”
Olympia, WA – Capitol Theater – “Taxi Driver”
Phoenixville, PA – The Colonial Theatre – “Stage Fright”
Pittsburgh, PA – The Hollywood Theater – “Doubel Indemnity”
Tucson, AZ – The Loft Cinema – “Bicycle Thieves”