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Demise of 35 mm film impacts small theaters

By Autumn D. F. Hopkins
Chris Dorst
Marshall Bever, owner of the Mt. Zion Drive-In, operates the soon-to-be obsolete 35 mm projector from inside the projection building.
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Drive-in theaters like Mt. Zion Drive-In aren't the only ones facing tough financial issues and possible closures. Several small, independently owned movie theaters throughout West Virginia are faced with the same difficulties but with no big automaker contests to, possibly, save the day.Jeanne Mozier, co-owner of the Star Theatre in Berkeley Springs, said, "We had to go digital or close. We couldn't abandon our town, so we made the only decision possible."Mozier and her husband and co-owner, Jack Soronen, paid for the conversion of their theater to digital. Mozier would not say how much it cost to convert.Ticket prices are $4.50 for adults, and the Star Theatre seats 250.Chuck Murphy, owner of the Elk Theatre in Sutton, is open about the struggle to convert his single-screen movie house to digital.
"If we don't raise the money, we will probably close. Right now, we're about $12,000 short," Murphy said. He and his wife, Jane, have been fundraising and accepting donations to keep the doors open.The Elk Theatre is the only theater in Braxton County. The next closest cinema is 35 miles away.Larger theater chains are also pressed to move to digital, but the financial burden can be spread across many screens. A spokesman for the Marquee Cinemas, which has locations all over the state, said their two remaining 35 mm film projectors, in Welch and Lewisburg, will be switched over this month.None of the theater owners interviewed knew how many theaters in the state still use 35 mm film.Although the move to digital will save studios, production companies and large chain theaters lots of money in production and shipping costs, it may be the death knell for small movie houses in West Virginia.Reach Autumn D.F. Hopkins at or 304-348-1249.
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