Beginning in summer quarter, 5th Avenue Cinema will be a film-only theater no longer. In traditional film presentations, light is projected through a 35-millimeter-wide strip of photographic film that has been reeled through the projector to display the movie onscreen. With digital display, there is no film—instead, images are typically loaded from a digital file and then projected for viewing.
Beginning in summer quarter, 5th Avenue Cinema will be a film-only theater no longer.
In traditional film presentations, light is projected through a 35-millimeter-wide strip of photographic film that has been reeled through the projector to display the movie onscreen. With digital display, there is no film—instead, images are typically loaded from a digital file and then projected for viewing.
Digital film projection has swept the nation’s theaters as more cinemas abandon 35-millimeter projectors, the industry standard for more than a century. Film-only theaters are now becoming a rarity.
Since the operation of Portland State’s 5th Avenue Cinema was taken over by students in 1989, it has exclusively presented its movies on 35-millimeter film, with the occasional showing on a Norelco 16-millimeter projector.
During the summer, the theater will begin the process of incorporating digital projectors capable of playing Blu-ray discs, which will broaden the reserve of films the cinema will be able to screen.
“Right now we can really only show film on our 35-millimeter camera, which is at least 60 years old. We upgraded the sound several years ago, but other than that there hasn’t been much like this done to the theater,” said Matt Ellis, the cinema coordinator for the theater.
The upgrades will include new projectors, a new sound system and two region-free Blu-ray players. Some discs are regionally encoded so they can only be played on a machine with encoding specific to a continent or region. Region-free players will allow the theater to play films from around the world.
The digital upgrade will allow the cinema to expand its screening selection at a time when it is becoming increasingly difficult for cinemas to obtain copies of movies on film, Ellis said.
“It has become harder and harder for us to actually get a hold of movies. Compared to the supply, the demand is high. Out of 10 requests we send out for movies on film, nine of them will come back denied,” Ellis said.
“Every year [more] studios are pulling out of 35-millimeter. It’s getting to the point…where you can mostly only get new movies on film. Studios are starting to purposefully take 35-millimeter out of circulation…putting them on the shelf or selling them to private collectors,” he said.
While the theater will be adding digital projection, it has no plans to abandon film. The heart of 5th Avenue Cinema will continue to be traditional film.
“We’re not exclusively playing Blu-rays or digital films,” Ellis said. “One of my goals has always been to upgrade to an operational standard to where we would be able to play digital films.”
The cinema’s goal is to screen everything available on film while having high-quality digital production as a secondary option for playing movies that are unavailable on film, he added.
“[The Office of Information Technology] is always in the process of updating our classroom technology in the general pool of classrooms on campus,” said Mark Walker, the manager of technology classrooms and labs at Portland State, who is overseeing the installation process.
The university is on a constantly revolving schedule of equipment upgrades, and the cinema, which doubles as a classroom, is due for updates, Walker said.
“The cinemas have reached the point where the equipment needs to be refreshed, and it works perfectly for us to collaborate with the film committee at this point. A win-win where we upgrade our equipment, they update theirs. We make sure our system and equipment upgrades help them, too,” Walker said.
The cinema’s staff is excited about the upgrade, but stressed that the theater will always be a place for film. Digital projections and films will be an addition to and not a replacement for the theater’s 35-millimeter film.
“Advocates come to us for film screenings, but it’s getting harder for us to get a hold of those films. We’re about providing great programming for our students, and we’re excited to mix film and digital together,” said Cinema Publicity Coordinator Brooks Fuentes.
“We love film and we want to use our film projector until its last breath. Blu-rays can help us bring in more people and show more films,” Fuentes said.