Selectmen approve low-interest loan, Rialto to go digital


October 16, 2013
LANCASTER — Fears that the Rialto Theatre would go dark for lack of a digital projection system have been eased.

The board of selectmen — chairman David Stickney and Rep. Leon Rideout — voted on Monday night, Oct. 7, to make a 10-year $50,000 business loan earmarked for town businesses with a low, one-and-a-half percent interest rate to Rialto Theatre co-owners Greg Cloutier and David Fuller, both of Lancaster. To avoid any appearance of a conflict of interest, selectman Leo Enos abstained.

"This is a game changer," Fuller explained.

All across the country, digital projection is a must.

CNN Tech reported in June that the National Association of Theatre Owners estimated that 88 percent of the nation's theatres had switched to digital.

"Films" are now 200-gigabyte hard drives, and "projectors" are big electronic machines that are designed to work at multiple frame rates, all monitored remotely.

The handwriting is on the wall, and the day will soon be here when movies are not released on 35mm print film, dooming many small-town theatres and hurting Main Street businesses across the country, Fuller explained in a Friday afternoon interview.

"We're already having trouble getting first-run films near their day of release," he said, adding that the industry had moved for more quickly in moving to digital only than he and Cloutier had expected. "By the time we got 'The Butlers' and 'We're the Millers,' many of our regular customers had already paid to see them somewhere else; they just couldn't bear to wait five or six weeks."

Fuller said he expects the new projection system to be in operation during the week of Dec. 9.

The town-sponsored loan will cover more than half the anticipated cost of allowing the Rialto to show movies from a hard-drive, in addition to making some repairs to its sound system.

Although the two businessmen have not worked out the details, they anticipate using the services of Kickstarter or its equivalent as a way to use the Internet to raise at least part of the needed $35,000 balance. Fuller said that undoubtedly he and Cloutier would also seek funds from foundation and community-minded sources.

Fortunately Fuller signed the Rialto up to screen a 35mm copy of "Catching Fire," the second movie in the "Hunger Games" series, starting on Thursday, Nov. 21. That night he expects to offer a double feature in which both the original "Hunger Games" is shown at 5 p.m. and the new one, at 8 p.m.

The Rialto gets great community support, Fuller pointed out, and in return offers programming to the community at a price — usually $250 — that does not completely cover its costs.

The recent free-to-the-public Empire Brass concert, supported by the Noyes Fund, filled all of the Rialto's 298 seats, with a dozen latecomers turned away.

Last year's RialtoPalooza drew some 200 young people, who enjoy nine live heavy metal bands.

The Weeks State Park Association voluntarily paid somewhat more than the usual fee to screen "The People's Forest: The Story of the White Mountain National Forest," that, typical of its summer-long Thursday night lecture series was free to the public and drew some 200 people. Both David Huntley of Moore Huntley Productions, who produced the documentary and David Govatski of Jefferson, a retired U.S. Forest Service forester who was an active member of the Weeks Act Centennial Committee, were on hand, as were others involved in the film project.

Cloutier explained in an e-mail exchange that most of the benefit and charity events do not actually cover the Rialto's operating costs, so that it's very important for the theatre to be able to continue showing great first -run movies to help its owners' meet their basic financial needs. "This allows us to fill the need in town for Lancaster and its surrounding communities to have a low-cost venue in which to put benefit concerts, fund raisers, performing arts, cult favorites, educational offerings, classics and live entertainment.

Rusty DeWees will put on his comedic show, "The Logger" at the Rialto on Friday and Saturday nights.

The third Wednesday of every month brings free classic films. Tonight "Psycho" will be playing, with donations for the new digital projector accepted.

On Nov. 20, "Oceans Eleven" will play, featuring the Rat Pack.

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