The announcement from John Fithian, the president of the National Organization of Theater Owners, at this year’s CinemaCon confirmed what was pretty much already universally acknowledged in the
film movie industry: 35mm film distribution will cease in just a few months, to be replaced by digital distribution in theaters. According to The Hollywood Reporter, 85 percent of North American screens and 67 percent of European screen have already converted to digital, making film stock an “endangered species.” But this is just one of many transitions that are taking place in reshaping how we access and watch movies.
These shifts can be measured by two stories about Fayetteville, North Carolina, the city where I work and where I lived for several years. First, Fayetteville’s Cameo Art House Theater is bidding good-bye to the film projectors they’ve used since the theater opened in 1998 by hosting a special screening of Cinema Paradiso, Giuseppe Tornatore’s 1988 love letter to film projection. To me, this good-bye is bittersweet. Although I appreciate the aesthetics of film projection, I’m happy that the Cameo will be able to remain open using digital projectors and that the city will continue to have at least one option for seeing art house movies on the big screen.
The second story makes me feel more nostalgic than I would have expected. According to the Fayetteville Observer, the last two Blockbuster Video stores in Fayetteville will soon be closing, their last DVDs to be sold in a liquidation sale. Unless I’m missing something, that means the last remaining (non-adult) bricks-and-mortar video stores in Fayetteville will soon be closed. Although I can barely remember the last time I rented a movie in a video store, this seems like a significant shift, one that is consistent with all of the contradictions associated with an emergent on-demand culture. Movies are available at the click of a mouse or remote. But we may find ourselves having less access to some titles than we might expect.
I’d imagine that most cities are undergoing similar transitions. Some independent video stores may be better prepared to weather the competition with streaming video. Other art houses may be unable to navigate the shift to digital projection. But these changes are happening fast, and it’s well worth asking what they mean for all aspects of movie culture.