As the conversion to digital projection continues to transform cinema exhibition, much of the enduring imagery of movies — reels, film, a booth, a projectionist — is fast becoming obsolete.
That’s one of the reasons that Boston filmmaker Peter Flynn is making a documentary about cinema projection, traveling the country to big-city and small neighborhood theaters, visiting booths and the projectionists inside them. His film, “The Dying of the Light,” endeavors to, as he puts it, “capture the craft of film projection at its moment of eclipse.”
Flynn, who teaches film at Emerson College and for 10 years ran the Boston Irish Film Festival, recently launched a website (www.dyingofthelight
film.com) to archive the footage he’s shot, and to promote his film. He plans to keep updating the site as a repository for clips, photos, and information, even after his film is finished.
Flynn, who earned a master’s in film studies from University College of Dublin, arrived in Boston in 1994. He directed his first feature documentary last year, “Blazing the Trail: The O’Kalems in Ireland,” about Sidney Olcott and Gene Gauntier of New York’s Kalem Film Co., who made a series of films in Ireland in the early 1910s. He set out one year ago to make a documentary about art cinemas, he says, but quickly discovered that he was more interested in the fast-disappearing culture of projectionists and the cinema history contained in the booths. As Rick Shamel, who has a projection room in his Acton home, says in the film, “The equipment is a connection to the past. A projectionist from the 1920s could come in here and run this. Nothing has changed.”
Flynn has shot interviews with projectionists Dave Leamon (Brattle Theatre, Cambridge), Matt Gress (Coolidge Corner Theatre, Brookline), Bob Throop (Capitol Theatre, Rome, N.Y.), Jason Sheckley (Harbor Theatre, Boothbay Harbor, Maine), and Raber Umphenour (Avon Cinema, Providence). This week, he heads to Indianapolis, then to New York to see the former head projectionist at Radio City Music Hall. “They’ve all been so generous in sharing stories,” says Flynn. “Once I started listening to them, I knew I wanted to capture all this stuff and get it out there as quickly as possible. Most audiences don’t really know how film is projected, or what goes on in that booth that’s right behind their backs.”
For more information, go to www.dyingofthelightfilm.com.
On the subject of digital conversion, the Coolidge Corner Theatre in Brookline just announced that it has successfully raised all of the $223,000 needed to upgrade its main screens, thanks to grants and donations.
“The transition to digital projection is arguably the biggest transformation to hit the film industry since the advent of sound, and unfortunately, it may spell the end for many small cinemas that cannot afford this upgrade. As such, I cannot possibly overstate how grateful we are to be a part of such a generous community, and to have audiences who recognize the value of the innovative, independent film programming we offer,” said Denise Kasell, executive director of the Coolidge Corner Theatre Foundation, in a press release.
The Brattle Theatre in Harvard Square, meanwhile, is halfway to its $140,000 fund-raising goal, with a deadline of Feb. 28, largely as a result of using the Kickstarter crowdsourcing website. The Brattle campaign aims to finance two projects: a digital projection system and an HVAC upgrade. “Distributors are now sending hard drives to theaters, rather than the familiar reels of 35mm film,” said Ned Hinkle, the Brattle’s creative director, on Kickstarter. “To be clear, we’ll still show 35mm prints after the upgrade. But we need DCP [Digital Cinema Package] in order to continue our one-of-a-kind repertory programming, because many movies will only be available digitally going forward.” One thing that won’t change: the Brattle’s rear-projection system, thought to be the only one still operating in the country.
Cape Cod resident Richard Miller knew he was witnessing something special back in 1963 when he was working at the Munson-Williams-Proctor Institute in Utica, N.Y. The museum hosted the 50th anniversary re-creation of the 1913 International Exhibition of Modern Art, which took place at the 69th Regiment Armory in Manhattan. Known thereafter as the Armory Show, it’s considered a seminal moment in the history of modern art in America. Artist Marcel Duchamp, then 75, delivered a lecture at the Utica museum about the Armory Show and its impact on the development of modern art. Miller recorded the lecture and preserved it for all these years.
Two years ago, he began efforts to turn his recording into a film. His research included licensing images for the many famous works of art showcased in the Armory Show. “Marcel Duchamp and the Show That Shook the World,” Miller’s 60-minute film, will have its debut screening at the Provincetown Art Association and Museum Sunday at 2:30 p.m. It’s also slated to screen at the Cultural Center of Cape Cod in Yarmouth on April 5.
For more information, go to www.paam.org.