Small-town movie theater goes digital

20110823_jem3_33.jpg(MPR Photo/ Alex Kolyer)

Here’s an update to a story from this summer:

It appears the JEM Theater in Harmony, Minn. will remain open — for now.

Owners Michelle and Paul Haugerud say they’ve been able to raise $7,200 in donations and secure a short-term loan to buy a used digital projector for $55,000.

That’s about $20,000 less than the cost of a new projector. The Haugeruds say they’ll continue to raise funds for another six months and put all the money toward paying off the loan. They want to have the projector completely paid for by the end of April 2012.

“I’m happy with the opportunity to keep it open,” Michelle Haugerud said. “But We still need people to attend and keep the place in business.”

The Haugeruds are among the Minnesota movie theater owners confronting a digital dilemma sweeping the industry nationwide: the movie industry plans to switch to all-digital technology by 2013, rendering traditional 35 millimeter film prints obsolete.

That leap to state-of-the-art projection may please audiences, but upgrading to digital projectors is expensive and the switch might force small movie theaters, including many in Minnesota, to close their doors for good.

Caught in the middle of the squeeze are places like the JEM, a theater that can seat one fifth of the residents of the sleepy little town near the Iowa border.

The online movie website Box Office Mojo estimates there are 219 theaters in Minnesota, comprising about 1,000 screens. Some are multiplex centers like AMC and Regal. But others are family-owned and have fewer than five screens.

The JEM will play its first digital film — Dolphin Tale — today, Saturday and Sunday.

  • Disco

    It will be interesting to see how much money will be spent nationwide on what is essentially a dying industry. It’s lose-lose for these small theatres, no doubt.

    But the days of charging $12 for a ticket and $7 for popcorn are numbered. People are watching movies at home now. The only thing keeping the theatres in business is the forced-delayed film schedule of the studios. Once they figure out that some people really might pay more to watch new movies in a home theatre, these mutliplexes are done.

  • Katherine Werner

    Actually, what keeps me away from movies more than a high ticket price (There are movie theatres offering fair ticket prices and no one is forcing you to eat overpriced, stale, fattening popcorn.) is people talking and texting as though they are watching the movie at home.

    In small towns and big cities alike, indie bookstores have closed as chains grew. Small cafes struggle as folks walk across the street to Starbucks, Denny’s and Domino’s. Thousands of towns in America might as well all be called Wal-Martville since the giant retailer is the only place to shop or work and has become the primary tax base. Neighborhood movie theaters? These gems are now our grandparents’ memories replaced with crowded 10-screen mega-plexes and, yes, $12 tickets.

    Independent bookstores, retailers, cafes, theaters – these business are also community gathering places providing the soul and identity of a community.

    Okay, we can’t go back in and not all chains are bad, but let’s support the efforts and dreams of individuals who are are working hard to either revive or sustain that soul. It is to everyone’s benefit.

    And if you like talking during a movie, please watch it at home.

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