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.