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Chewbacca and his date arrive on the red carpet at Friday's Go Digital or Go Dark premiere  at Lake Placid's Palace Theater. Photo: Chris Morris via <a href="http://www.adirondackdailyenterprise.com/">Adirondack Daily Enterprise</a>
Chewbacca and his date arrive on the red carpet at Friday's Go Digital or Go Dark premiere at Lake Placid's Palace Theater. Photo: Chris Morris via Adirondack Daily Enterprise

Big support for small Adirondack theaters

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There's been a lot of talk lately about North Country movie theaters that are struggling to convert to new digital technology.

Without help, as many as 10 small movie theaters - from Indian Lake to Ausable Forks - could go dark.

A region-wide fundraising effort called "Go Digital or Go Dark" got underway last week in Lake Placid. Some theaters will need hundreds of thousands of dollars to pay for the new digital projectors.

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I don't want to say it's a last-ditch effort, but it's getting there for a lot of us. This is very promising, very encouraging.
More than 150 people dressed in their Hollywood best turned out for the event.

A red carpet and velvet ropes welcomed them at the Palace Theater's front entrance and the main lobby had the feel of an Oscars after-party.

Adirondack North Country Association Executive Director Kate Fish said she hopes the campaign will raise enough funds to help theater's make the switch from film to digital.

"We can't imagine Lake Placid without the Palace," she said. "We can't imagine our small towns without our small-town theaters. Quite frankly, these are family-owned small businesses. It's beyond their means to raise this money on their own. So we're all, together, jumping in to help."

After socializing and sipping champagne, the crowd moved into the main theater for the premiere of a trailer directed by filmmakers Aaron Woolf and T.J. Brearton.

The two-and-a-half-minute trailer began with a Bigfoot-like monster chasing a woman through the forest.

Then the film cut away, showing an empty reel spinning as an ominous voice explained the big costs associated with digital conversion. Crowds of upset moviegoers were shown sitting in the dark.

But as the voice began talking about the "Go Digital or Go Dark" campaign, the lights started to turn back on, and relieved faces of movie fans splashed across the screen.

The trailer was shot on location at North Country movie theaters and included local people. When it finished, the Palace audience burst into applause.

Afterward, locals talked about their memories of going to the movies in local theaters.

Valerie Rogers of Lake Placid recalled going to the midnight premiere of "Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace" at the Palace.

"And I remember emailing a buddy of mine in the City, and I said, 'I went down and watched the Phantom Menace,' and he said, 'Oh my God, how long did you stand in line? And what did you pay for your tickets? I've been waiting in line for three weeks and I spent 300 bucks on my tickets,'" she said. "And I'm like, 'Well, I walked down about 11, and I stood in line, I went across the street, got a cup of coffee. I paid six dollars for my ticket.' And he was flabbergasted with that.

"One thing I think that's really important to remember about this place is they've never gouged us. They don't charge to make money here. They charge to keep it alive, and now they're behind the 8 ball because they're not trying to make a lot of money off of it."

Sharon O'Brien of Saranac Lake said old theaters like the Palace aren't just community gathering places; they're also important historical structures.

"I love architecture," she said. "I worked for Historic Saranac Lake many years ago, and Eileen Black was on the Board of Directors at that time. Eileen gave hours of her life to help restore this building, to keep it beautiful for us and for future generations. We need to save the building; we need to save the ability to watch movies in our hometown."

Corey Hanf, owner of the Hollywood Theater in AuSable Forks, said the fundraiser will be the heart of the effort to save North Country cinemas.

"I don't want to say it's a last-ditch effort, but it's getting there for a lot of us," he said. "This is very promising, very encouraging - the turnout and support online already, even though the exposure has been very limited."

Ten North Country theaters must make the switch. They include Lake Placid's Palace Theater, The Hollywood in AuSable Forks, the Indian Lake Theater, Ogdensburg Cinema, The Strand theaters in Old Forge, Plattsburgh and Schroon Lake, Cinematheque in South Glens Falls, the State in Tupper Lake and the Glen Drive-In in Queensbury.

Read Brian Mann's Inbox post on saving Adirondack movie theatres.

Chris Morris' reporting is courtesy of the Adirondack Daily Enterprise. For more of his work, go to AdirondackDailyEnterprise.com.

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