Arts Desk

Avalon Theatre Raises Funds for Digital Transition

You’ve already kicked in to help Veronica Mars hit the big screen and Zach Braff plumb the plights of existentially challenged thirtysomething white dudes. Now you’re wondering where to throw those philanthropic film dollars next.

For those inclined to give locally, D.C.’s Avalon Theatre is throwing an anniversary bash and fundraiser this weekend, the proceeds from which will help the nonprofit theater transition to digital projection.

As Washington City Paper reported last year, the District’s cinema screens, just like those all over the nation, have been rapidly transitioning to pixel-based projection as celluloid film prints become increasingly scarce. It’s an expensive process, and one that’s hitting independent nonprofit theaters like the Avalon particularly hard, as they aren’t in a position to take advantage of the strings-attached financial aid packages offered by distributors to help defray the costs.

When we talked to Avalon Executive Director Bill Oberdorfer at the time, he knew that the question of their own digital transition wasn’t if, but when. That when arrives next month. Tracking down 35mm film has become even tougher just in the last few months, says Oberdorfer. "Some independent distributors have ceased issuing film prints altogether."

This year marks the Avalon's 90th anniversary in the building and the 10th anniversary of its nonprofit status. The Avalon's survival and its transition to a nonprofit have been aided by the local community in Chevy Chase, which banded together to help raise funds to renovate the space and prop up what is now the city’s oldest operating theater. This Sunday’s gala looks to harness that same generosity to help pay for the new projection system, as well as a much-needed upgrade to the sound system in the Avalon’s two houses.

The event features a reception followed by, appropriately, a screening of the new documentary Side by Side, writer/director Christopher Keneally’s recent film about the advantages and pitfalls of the industry’s format shift. The screening is followed by a discussion with Washington Post film critic Ann Hornaday, local documentarians Sean and Andrea Nix Fine (Inocente, War/Dance), and Ed Arentz, the managing director of Music Box Films. Tickets are still available, from $50-$250—or you can underwrite the whole thing if you’ve got an extra $5,000.

Luckily for the Avalon, this weekend’s event isn’t make-or-break. While Oberdorfer says the nonprofit hopes to raise $90,000 on Sunday, installing the projectors isn’t contingent on making that goal.

That’s good news for the Avalon, but sad news for fans of old-school projection. Avalon has no reason to hang on to its old projectors—it's not a repertory house, so it rarely needs to show 35mm film, and its projection booths aren't the roomiest. So Oberdorfer says the old projectors have to go. If the theater is to make it to 100 years old, it’ll only come by ditching a technology now older than that.

Photo by Flickr user thisisbossi used under a Creative Commons license.

Due to a reporting error, the original version of this blog post misidentified a film directed by Sean and Andrea Nix Fine. They directed Inocente and War/Dance, not Trouble the Water.

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