James Hanley has seen the writing on the wall for a few years now. He knew that if Cinestudio, which he helped found at Trinity College 43 years ago, didn't pull itself into the 21st century by upgrading its film-projection equipment to digital, the beloved cinema would have to close.
"Film is going away. We've been getting letters warning us for about two years ... that the major distributors would not distribute movies on film any more," he said. "Actually, they can't wait to get out of dealing with film. They've closed a lot of film printing operations and fewer people are making prints. Major theaters are trucking their film projectors to the dump."
The only problem: Cinestudio needed $200,000 to get the necessary equipment to go both digital and high-def. The nonprofit movie theater, staffed almost entirely by volunteers, didn't have it.
"Our only options were to raise money ourselves, from the audiences, foundations, supporters, or we would have to borrow a lot of money," he said. "We all hoped we wouldn't have to borrow it."
The story has a happy ending. Cinestudio raised the full amount and is celebrating the new system on Saturday night, Oct. 27, with a gala event and a screening of Martin Scorsese's Oscar-nominated family action-adventure "Hugo."
"We had such a wonderful outpouring of support from the community," he said. "The Hartford Foundation [for Public Giving] donated a lot, and Ivan Backer [former director of community affairs at Trinity] helped us raise money. We have lots of friends at Cinestudio."
Even though the event Saturday is the system's official inauguration, it has been used for a few months now. The weeklong run of the documentary "Samsara" was a high point.
"It was shown in 4K, very, very ultra-high definition, with a very high-quality lens," he said. "We had huge audiences, and we're considering bringing it back."
Cinestudio could have installed a rudimentary digital system for less than $200,000. But Hanley figured the cinema should do it once and do it right, and that meant a higher price tag.
Several factors were involved. The first was picture quality, which meant only the highest-grade camera. "The whole point was to be able to get a top-of-the-line projector. We got a Barco DP4K-32B, a very powerful projector," he said.
The second consideration was that Cinestudio own the projector outright. "In many cases, theaters don't own their projectors. ... If we didn't own the system, we would have to have gotten involved in a system of virtual print fees. It's an inside thing with the studio, where you pay fees to the owner of the equipment," Hanley said. "Owning the projector gives us great flexibility because we control the equipment. It gives us control over programming."
But one upgrade Cinestudio did not embrace is 3D, because the logistical demands, and the expense, was not worth it, considering the lesser picture quality of 3D films.
"We stuck with 2D over 3D for a number of reasons, mainly how bright the picture is. The nature of 3D now is that there are two pictures projected, one to each eye, so the brightness is a lot less than a 2D picture," he said.
"And then there is the massive problem of the glasses. Either you get very cheap glasses and throw them away, which bothered some of us because of the environmental consequences. But the expensive glasses cost $50 to $60 apiece, and even then, brightness is still a problem," he said. "You have to track them so people don't mistakenly walk out with them and you have to wash them after use. Basically, you'd have to acquire $30,000 in equipment just for the glasses."
Hanley has no regrets, and he knows that 3D is still possible. "The Barco can do 3D, so if we want it, we can add it on," he said.
Unlike many theaters, Cinestudio will not throw out its film projectors. The theater has a 35mm and 70mm units. "We can still show archive prints of classic films," he said.
The event on Saturday, Hanley said, is a celebration of the equipment, but more than that, a celebration of the community that made it happen.
"The main thing is to acknowledge the achievement of raising the money, and acknowledging all the people who contributed. Cinestudio is a unique operation and people recognize that."
PIXELATION! A CELEBRATION OF 4K DIGITAL CINEMA AT CINESTUDIO is Saturday, Oct. 27, from 6 to 10 p.m. at Cinestudio, 300 Summit St., on the campus of Trinity College in Hartford. The event starts with a reception, with food by Hook & Ladder restaurant, followed by a screening of "Hugo," followed by a panel discussion with James Hanley, Trinity Prof. Milla Riggio, University of Hartford Prof. Michael Walsh and radio host Colin McEnroe. Admission is $25, seniors and students $20 in advance, $30 and $25 at the door.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at