It’s estimated that some 300 small independent cinemas will struggle to find the reddies to convert from 35mm polyester film to digital.
Indeed, Geoff Greaves, director of Merlin Cinemas, which runs nine cinemas based mainly in Cornwall and Devon, said switchover costs were impossible to meet in the current financial climate.
He said: “These costs are totally uneconomical for small sites. But this is not the time to panic. We’re still several years away from not being able to produce 35mm film, which gives us breathing space to find a way to finance the transition and keep even the smaller sites open.
“The problem will be when the big operators go totally digital then the film distributor will have less reason to produce 35mm copies for the independent sections.
“There needs to be some compromise from those who stand to gain most out of the digital revolution. They could pass some of their savings on to us.”
And there are undoubtedly big savings to be made. Digital film is less expensive to make and can be encrypted to stop pirating.
Advocates of digital cinema maintain that lower costs will allow cinemas to screen a wider range of films, including arthouse fare.
Of course, the same tune was sung when the multiplexes opened. In reality, there was only room for Harry Potter across three or four screens.
Either way, the future of smaller cinemas will be sealed in the next few months because they won’t be able to screen the 3D films coming out of Hollywood.
Peter Buckingham at The UK Film Council recently admitted to The Times that if these cinemas don’t go digital: ‘they aren’t going to have anything to show in five years’ time’.
The council believes that a united front is the only way to bring the cost of implementing the new technology below £60,000 per screen.
But if the big chains cut their own deals, as happened in the US, the future for the rest of the field is bleak.
Buckingham said: ‘I don’t know what Plan B is – there is no public money available.’
Perhaps it’s time for Mr Greaves to start panicking after all – as might any self-respecting D+Cineaste.
Posted by Thin White Duke