ANDERS AX / STAFF PHOTO
Film rolls through a projector at the Village Picture Shows cinema in Manchester recently. Owners of the theater have started a Kickstarter campaign to raise money for new projectors.
Despite the immortal words of the theater, “The show must go on,” Manchester’s only cinema, Village Picture Shows, may close its curtain after being open since the 1960s.
In order to keep the silver screen alive, owners Shelly and Jeff Gibson have set up an online Kickstarter campaign to raise the $175,000 required for new projectors, screens, sound systems and electronic equipment. So far, 733 backers have given $131,645 as of late last week — 75 percent of the amount needed, donated about halfway through the campaign.
“I’m really touched by the outpouring of support from this community,” Shelly Gibson said during a phone interview. “It’s nice to know that movies are important to people.”
If the movie theater does close, the nearest theater will be Cinema 7 in Bennington, a 23-mile journey from Manchester.
Gibson knew two years ago something would have to happen to keep the theater in business. The predominant film stock of the past century, 35mm film, is increasingly being abandoned by film companies due to its cost in shooting production and its handling and transportation expenses.
Productions are now being filmed by more cost-effective digital cameras which minimize development costs and can be transported in hard drive forms. Where once 3,000 35mm prints of a movie would be made, Gibson said only 1,000 are printed on film while the other 2,000 are digital copies.
With fewer available films for theaters that don’t have digital equipment — places like the Village Picture Shows and Playhouse Theater in Randolph — securing movies, even popular ones like “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey,” is becoming difficult.
“It was one of those nail-biters when we weren’t sure if we were going to get it or not,” Gibson said, referring to when she’d petitioned for “The Hobbit.” “It used to be when something went wide we could advertise (in advance).”
Now, Gibson knows she’ll receive a film four days before it’s released.
The business held out as long as it could with a sound system that popped and scratched, or went mute entirely for minutes on end. The projectors’ bulbs sometimes required being blown on in order to light up and other times the machine could accidentally rip the film that it was projecting.
Three hours before their first screening of “The Hobbit,” a piece of one projector had broken off in the hand of a projectionist, forcing him to drive to Bennington and have the piece welded back into something that resembled its original shape. He arrived a half hour before the screening and, remarkably, it worked. The audience was none the wiser.
Gibson said the theater is “a throwback to the old days of the movies... one of the reasons we fought the digital for so long.” By waiting, she was able to watch how far the prices for digital equipment would fall while researching the best ways to fund the project. Gibson didn’t know how they would come up with the cash, and they wouldn’t be able to get a bank loan with a low-return from a movie theater.
“We’ve always been able to keep it afloat,” Gibson said, “but this was humongous.”
By going all in with the Kickstarter program, everything or nothing, the theater will either be renovated or all the donated money will be returned to contributors.
“We figured that if it reached the funding goal we would commit to running it,” Gibson said. “We’re now being cautiously optimistic.”
Many in the community are rooting for its success.
“I’m very much in support of every town having a cinema. I think it’s key to the soul of a place,” said John Hadden, a Landgrove resident and theatrical actor.
Hadden called the theater “the place to get together and understand things” on a community level. That mutual experience, he continued, “had a lot of power... and we’re losing it more and more quickly.”
Even those who travel to Manchester during the winter, like Patti Katzman and her husband from Long Island, have seen their local theaters closing as well.
“We are all movie aficionados,” Katzman said. “Even movie theaters in Manhattan are closing because of the issue... we cannot let this theater go ever.”
Not only have donations come from the community and local businesses, but also from high school friends of Shelly’s who said they raised their kids skiing in the area.
“It’s been really eye-opening,” said Huck Gibson, Shelly’s son. “People have come out in amazing ways. I couldn’t be more blown away.”
Should the Village Picture Shows have the full $175,000 donated, employees will renovate the theater during its April and May season — historically “bad” weeks for the theater, Gibson said. The renovation will be done for free as well. The money donated will be solely spent on equipment and, if there is money left over, cosmetic upgrades like new carpeting, soundproofing and seat covers.
The Kickstarter campaign ends March 15. Should the limit not be met, Village Picture shows will continue screening movies until April 1, and then close.
For more information, visit www.kickstarter.com
and search “Village Picture Shows.”