Cinema bites digital bullet

CHARLIE GATES
Last updated 10:30 09/11/2013
Film projector
IAN MCGREGOR/ Fairfax NZ

LIGHT BOX: Lang Masters with the last 35mm projector in Christchurch at the Hollywood Cinema in Sumner.

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It has served movie lovers for over a century but the simple art of shining light through film is coming to an end in Christchurch cinemas.

There is now only one traditional film projector still operating in Christchurch as cinemas move to install new digital equipment.

Reading Cinemas multiplex in Shirley this week replaced its eight 35mm projectors with state-of-the-art digital equipment. Hoyts cinemas in Christchurch went fully digital earlier this year, while the new arthouse screens at Alice in Videoland and the Academy Gold in Sydenham have always been fully digital.

The Hollywood cinema in Sumner is the last place in Christchurch where you can watch a film projected on 35mm film. But the cinema's last traditional projector, which has been showing films since the 1960s, is due to be replaced with digital equipment before Christmas.

For more than 100 years movies have been projected by running a strip of film past a powerful light source, but new projectors use a large digital file as source material, instead of film.

The advantage of digital projectors is that every screening is identical as, unlike film, the source is not vulnerable to deterioration or scratches. Digital projectors also mean heavy reels of film don't need to be shipped around the world; the movie can instead be shipped on a computer hard drive.

But the digital system also means projection staff are no longer required to screen films.

Reading Cinemas The Palms complex manager Lindsay Butler said the digital fit-out meant two staff members had to be made redundant and three resigned.

"This means the projection booth is fully automated. It is all scheduled and then controlled by a computer system. It means projectors are no longer required," he said. "The beauty of digital projection is that every screening is the same. It doesn't fade or accumulate dust. Film does deteriorate."

The main screen at the Palms now has a new dual projection system for 3D screenings. Butler said the two-projector system overcomes light loss problems associated with 3D films - giving a brighter, clearer image.

One of the decommissioned 35mm projectors has been bought by a private buyer, but the other seven will "end up as scrap", Butler said.

Hollywood cinema manager Lang Masters said his traditional projector had served him well over more than a decade.

"They go forever these things. It is built like a tank," he said. "It will go to the tip probably. Nobody wants them. They are a thing of the past. It's a shame really because it is good equipment."

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- © Fairfax NZ News

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