NewburyportNews.com, Newburyport, MA

Local News

January 30, 2013

Port's independent theater ponders its future

Port's beloved independent theater looks to survive industry's changes

The technology that enables cinemas to run films is changing so fast that it is making life problematic for those in small venues such as the popular Screening Room here. To borrow from the film world, the situation appears to be somewhere between “The Turning Point” and “Brave New World.”

But Screening Room co-owner Andrew Mungo insists that this is not a case of “Apocalypse Now.”

Industry news reports reveal that within the next 18 months, large distributors will move from 35 mm film to sophisticated disc technology that requires small cinemas to update their systems at a cost of about $75,000.

That is a large sum for small merchants, especially when the future of the cinema appears to be threatened by businesses like Netflix and avocations like home-entertainment centers. Many large theaters have made the switch to digital technology, but the future of many small community theaters is less certain.

Mungo has been in the business for three decades and is weighing such changes as he ponders the future.

“The technology is the easy part,” said Mungo, who with co-founder and co-owner Nancy Langsam has run the Screening Room since 1982. “The nuance is all about whether or not the business is strong enough for the market. It is about financing, it is about building ownership, it is about one’s personal interests, even one’s own health.

“So far, though, we have yet to fail to get a film in 35 mm that we otherwise would have gotten. In other words, there is time.”

The Screening Room runs films that are considered too small to draw customers in major film houses. The most recent offerings of the 99-seat venue have included “Sessions,” “Anna Karenina” and “Hyde Park on Hudson” (playing now.)

“I really enjoy going there,” said Ellen Robbins of Newburyport. “You get to see quality films that you can’t see anywhere else, and the room itself is small and inviting.”

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