By Kate Irwin
The days are numbered for Invermere’s beloved Toby Theatre and thousands of other small-town movie theatres across the globe that can’t afford the switch to digital projection.
Most major Hollywood studios have announced this year that by January 2013 they will cease to produce movies on film reel. For theatres like the Toby, which cannot afford the approximate $200,000 cost for a new projection system, the march of technology is leaving them behind.
“It’s very frustrating because they keep changing the date; we can’t really make plans for the future if we’re just going month by month,” said Elizabeth Peters, who, along with her husband Ron, has run the Toby Theatre for more than 40 years.
“We are part of a group of 60 small theatres across part of Saskatchewan, Alberta, B.C. and Manitoba that are in the same position. We just don’t have the money to upgrade.”
The Peters have dedicated their entire married life to running a small-town, family-friendly entertainment venue. They bought the Toby in 1971, six months into married life, and handle every task for the day-to-day running, from maintenance to ticket sales to making and selling fresh, buttered popcorn.
As the theatre celebrate its 60th birthday, its owners are hoping to hang on until Easter 2013, but said they are in the dark as to whether that goal is achievable.
“Distribution of 35 millimetre film is collapsing as well,” Elizabeth said. “We’re hoping to see some more people step forward and fight for it, like the director of the latest Batman film did. He insisted on shooting on 35 millimetre film.”
Cost is the main factor the Peters attribute to the decline of their business. Not only the extensive cost preventing them from upgrading, but also the cost benefits to movie studios of producing digital movies over film.
While a single movie on 35 millimetre film costs around $1,500, to produce a hard drive with digital data averages around $150, Elizabeth said.
“The quality is reduced too,” she added. “When you watch a film right now they’re going at 24 frames a second with black between the frames, which adds a lot of depth to the picture; with digital you’re never getting that.”
During the theatre’s last few months, the Peters said they hope locals and visitors alike will come out to enjoy, for probably their last time, the venue’s small-town appeal. From the old-fashioned love seats to the memorabilia adorning the walls, and the charm of an intermission while film reels are switched over — that experience will soon be gone for good.
“It really is the ending of an era,” Elizabeth added.