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The Digital Divide Presents a Problem for Rheem, Orinda Theatres

We live in an increasingly digitized world, apparently, and a move from 35mm film to digital projection presents a sizable challenge to Lamorinda's venerable movie houses.

The operators of Lamorinda's two landmark theatres are struggling to find a way to fund a required transition from film to digital projection.

Movie studios are abandoning the old 35mm film canisters in favor of digital projection for their new releases. Film buffs may prefer the old reel-to-reel projectors but theatre managers say they need to make the transition in order to get the latest movies, draw the crowds and stay competitive.

The problem? The digital projection equipment will cost a bunch of money the two theatres may not be able to come up with in time.

"We are still looking into fundraising, and we will have an official message soon -- in the next two weeks or so," Manager Beau Behan said Tuesday.

In the meantime, most of the major film studios have already stopped mailing out their latest blockbusters to smaller movie houses in favor of digital distribution methods that save them time and money. Small movie houses, like and the New Rheem Theatre, will need to make the switch to digital projection in order to get the latest crowd-pleasing movies and stay competitive -- and insiders say that bill is going to come due in a few months.

Theatre supporters say that's the problem: Orinda needs three digital projectors and Rheem would need four -- at a cost of about $60,000 each.

Zowie. Theatre lovers and local film buffs are biting their nails -- not over the latest plot twist in Mission Impossible -- but rather if the area's two theatres will be able to come up with enough movie moolah to keep the doors open and the lights on for years more to come.

Amy Chu January 03, 2012 at 09:08 PM
Wait a minute (pulling off socks to count on toes) we're talking $420,000 here??? Parcel tax? I'm kidding... I'm kidding
Lee daniels January 03, 2012 at 09:50 PM
Ouch. That's a lot of money.
Shon Sherwood January 03, 2012 at 10:08 PM
Parcel tax = free movies, popcorn, soda. Yay or nay?
CJ January 03, 2012 at 11:32 PM
I have been beating this drum for years on these theatres. The romantic attachments are cute. But economic models do not support these theatres anywhere. Even in SF,Berkeley or......... Good luck on the new projectors. Does Fenton's need Orinda and Moraga locations?
X January 03, 2012 at 11:58 PM
Do they have to change over all of them? Could they just do one at each theater?
Carol Ann Long January 04, 2012 at 01:09 AM
While I understand the need to have the numbers balance out I still think it would be a shame to lose these two theatres and hope that something can be done to keep that from happening
dave in moraga January 04, 2012 at 04:17 AM
The small town movie theaters are nearly gone. The drive-ins. Gone. Unless you kissed your first girlfriend there, just let it go. Let bygones by bygones. Sorry, I don't understand people who need to collect things. Embrace the moment, and then let it go.
Tim Davis January 04, 2012 at 04:49 PM
Collecting memories, interesting architecture and civic identity are bad things and should be let go? Did I hear that right? They might not be up to date but these two buildings are the only identifying structures this area has ----- aside from the Moraga Adobe and Moraga Barn. It always amazes me when people say bulldoze these places in favor of what, the crappy strip mall buildings we have now??
Valerie Colber January 04, 2012 at 07:22 PM
The Rheem and Orinda Theaters serve the community more than just showing first run theatrical releases. There are special community events, film festivals, special occasion screenings, local film-maker productions, etc., also held at these wonderful architecturally appreciated and valuable buildings rich with local history. I agree with others that we should not abandon these businesses nor the buildings. Everything old does not need to be discarded for everything new. Naysayers can sit at home and watch their videos. Everyone in the LaMOrinda community needs to become a member of the California Independent Film Festival organization (http://www.caiff.org) and maybe a special CAIFF fund can be established to support these necessary upgrades and make a commitment to not only preserving these local treasures, and support the business owners who are doing their best to make these historic landmarks relevant to our community today and tomorrow. I also agree with the creative ideas being suggested such as maybe only get one digital projector for each main theater at the Orinda and Rheem theaters, and add digital projectors as they can afford to do so. Are there used digital projectors available or can digital projectors be purchased from recently closed theaters? Come on LaMOrinda! Don't throw away or let valuable historic landmarks and community serving businesses perish! The future of all businesses in Orinda and Moraga communities depend on all businesses thriving,
Aric Martinez January 04, 2012 at 10:52 PM
Let advertisers pay for half of each digital projector. Offer 10 ad spaces at $3000 each. Sound like a lot? Make up for it with the term. Let them be featured for 3 years= $83 a month per advertiser. Before each movie a special page will flash for 30 seconds "This Digital Projector Brought To You By" with a list of the companies. Lamoridians will reward these companies in spades with their future business and appreciation for those that stepped up to the plate.
CJ January 04, 2012 at 11:45 PM
Maybe have some faith and they could be come less than crappy strip mall buildings?. Fact is the overhead and code limits communities such as ours add to the process make even the crappy strip malls you loath, too expensive to develop unless you want to build out residential to higher densities. However, this would create a collective scream that could be heard from here to LA. I am afraid what you see already may be as good as it gets. The ROI just isn't here.
CJ January 04, 2012 at 11:57 PM
No offense Valerie. But where will we all be singing Cumbaya? Show me the money......that's all that matters. Their time has passed. Buy some of the seats for your theatre room when they liquidate. I am going to WC to see Mission Impossible on the XD screen, theatre seating is awesome. HVAC works great. Doesn't smell like an old theatre. Can play video games with kids afterwards . Go out to dinner at 50 different places of my choosing. When I spend $60+ for a movie I want all of it. Our restrictive zoning and endless architectural review process has done what it was intended to do, kill the commercial development in this area. The only people who kind of get it around here are Lafayette and Walnut Creek.
Eileen January 05, 2012 at 01:37 AM
It sounds like the Hollywood studios are now doing what Orinda's early city councils fought so hard against, the demise of the Orinda Theater. I enjoy eating a meal and catching a film in downtown Orinda and find the lit-up marquee a welcome sight on westbound 24 - but can let go. I have to second CJ's post and paraphrase: Have some faith that downtown Orinda could become something better, with interesting updated architecture and more of the kinds of businesses you really want to patronize (like Noah's, Jamba Juice and Yogurt Shack, that many of us visit frequently, in Lafayette). Some amount of higher-density residential-above-retail would be a welcome addition here, IMO. And, to your point about identifying architecture, as a nearly-native Moragan who lived next to St Mary's, I would vote for SMC's Spanish colonial style chapel, front and center on the campus. It's not going anywhere, even as they expand. It's truly beautiful.
2nd Generation Moraga January 05, 2012 at 03:45 AM
I would sign up for that deal. Nothing wrong with Walnut Creek except for the parking, traffic, crowds, etc... Once in a while it's fine, but the convenience of dropping the kids at a theatre 5 minutes from the house, or not having to hassle with things listed above is great. It never ceases to amaze me that people complain about how bad Moraga is (no retail... no entertainment) but then don't see there way to support the businesses that are here.
dave in moraga January 05, 2012 at 04:21 AM
Yes, Tim. Pretty soon, you and I are both dead. MySpace will be dead. Facebook will be dead. Ironically, I am a kind of sentimental, even maudlin at times, guy. But dead is dead. Moraga is happy to be known as a college town. Maybe that will stick if we encourage it a bit. The Moraga Barn, years after renovation, is an empty shell. It is not architecturally or historically interesting to anyone after you and I are dead. The Moraga Adobe is invisible. I don't even know how to get to it, so by all means, preserve it for all to not see. The Orinda Theater has a bit more pizazz and function. It is visible from the freeway and Bart. It is a uniting symbol for a town split in half by a freeway. By all means, fight for it.
dave in moraga January 05, 2012 at 05:11 AM
I very much like the idea of a local theater, but revenues, including my own support, do not seem sufficient to make it viable. I like the idea that locals are trying to save it, even though I don't agree that it has particular historical significance worth saving. Make a contribution, if you feel its survival is important. If it can't figure out a way to pay its bills, I would be perfectly happy to see the space put to other use.

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