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March 26, 2019

5/29/2013 1:55:00 PM
The theater's digital leap
We have witnessed a major breakthrough at the State Theater in Windom.
The new digital projector has been installed. If you've been to the theater lately, you've already noticed a difference - the crisp, perfect picture and an excellent new surround sound system.
As we've reported in the past, the digital projector is essentially the difference between life and death for small movie theaters. The national film industry has essentially phased out the old 35 mm reel-type movies.
More and more films are being released straight to digital, with no chance of them ever hitting reels. In a couple of weeks the movie 42 will be shown in the Windom theater. That film would not have come here without the new projector. It was not available on reels.
Jean Fast, a leader of the non-profit organization that now owns the theater, said the theater had essentially run out of movies. Without the new projector, it would have resorted to showing "oldies" that are already available on DVD.
I've said it in this space before, but it bears repeating - this is yet another success story for Windom. It is another example of Windom area residents taking a problem and working together to find a solution.
The State Theater has received more than $50,000 in donations during the past several weeks. Some of those came from private donations and some, such as the $25,000 matching grant earmarked by county commissioners, came through public funds.
The theater also received a $25,000 donation from the Remick Foundation. This will help pay for the restoration of the movie theater marquee.
Fast said the marquee is currently being repaired at Messer Machine and should be back in its familiar 4th Ave. perch, above the theater entrance, in August.
Digital glitches
I had to chuckle as I heard the story about how the theater's volunteers ultimately got the system up and running.
The first digital movie to hit the local screen was The Croods on May 16. The first viewers were students from Windom's middle school. It was a sort of year-end treat for the students.
As students filed into the building that morning, a lot of them had an inkling that the theater was unveiling a brand new system. What they didn't know was that the system had been in operation for only a few hours.
"With anything new, there are always glitches," Fast said. "In this case, it was just the different technology. They (the film companies) send you a hard drive for the movie and then e-mail the code to unlock it.
"They don't know which format you use, so they send a code for every format. Karen (Johnson) and Nick (Raverty) were there until 5 a.m. the morning of the show, trying to figure it out."
Four hours after finally getting the movie to work, students were filing in for Windom State Theater's first-ever digital production, The Croods.
"It was just fantastic," Fast said. "It absolutely blows your mind, the crispness of the picture. And it's not just the picture, the surround sound is just great. It is so much fun to see."
It is certainly a big step up from the old 35 millimeter projector.
"The last picture we showed on 35 millimeter was Silver Linings Playbook," Fast recalled. "The reel was bad, so we heard this clicking throughout the movie. And then there was a white streak down the middle of the picture.
"And, the picture was jumping because it didn't fit quite right on the platter."
Considering that the opening Friday night of the new digital system was arriving on graduation night, and only a few nights after the middle school viewing, Fast wasn't expecting a strong crowd. However, she was pleasantly surprised to see 68 kids in the theater, possibly a sign of things to come.
In addition to Windom students, the new digital system was also viewed by students in grades 4-8 from Westbrook-Walnut Grove on May 20. The feedback from those 80-plus students was excellent, Fast said.
"On Tuesday, their community education director called and said they were so impressed that they wanted to bring their community education kids back on June 14 for another showing," Fast said.
Beyond the quality
Beyond the obvious quality factors, Fast sees a number of other advantages of going digital.
"The movie Epic just came out and we will have it here on June 14, so we will have it within 21 days of its first showing," Fast said. "On reels, we would have waited four to six weeks. Actually, we could have brought Epic here sooner, if we'd had an open weekend to show it. We already had Ironman 3 booked and on Riverfest weekend, we're not having a movie."
The other thing the new system allows is for the theater to show two different films on the same weekend.
"On the weekend of June 14-15 we will show Epic as the early show and 42 as the late show," Fast said. "We will show two feature films on the same weekend, which we could not have done before."
The switch to digital means the theater's cost per film jumps by about $100, possibly more since it is based on attendance. On the flip side, the theater's labor costs have dropped because it takes almost no time to set up for a film.
In addition, the State Theater has added more show times. The new schedule is as follows:
•Fridays and Saturdays - 4 p.m., 7 p.m. and 9:30 p.m.
• Sundays - 4 p.m. and 7 p.m.
The State Theater group is by no means standing pat. They continue to work to improve the facility. For instance, during the Riverfest shutdown they will be painting the theater floor and installing a new carpet runner.
"We are coming off a super month," Fast said. " And we're looking forward to a fantastic summer."

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