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Clova Cinema wrestles with film vs. digital dilemma

The silver screen may soon dim to black at one of Cloverdale's most recognizable cultural institutions.

Even as studios phase out 35-mm reels in favour of digital alternatives, Clova Cinema is still screening movies the old-fashioned way.

The theatre's operator, Craig Burghardt, said he wants to take the rather expensive leap into digital cinema but remains in a deadlock with the building's owner over the future of the Clova.

"For about seven years now we've been trying to get a long-term lease," Burghardt told The Cloverdale Reporter, adding he expects to find out in February whether or not he can stick around.

He's spent more than a year raising money for a digital projector to replace the two aging 35-mm projectors inside the art deco-style theatre.

Talent shows, silent auctions and, yes, film screenings have brought in $15,000 since the fall of 2012.  A new digital projector costs between $50,000 and $60,000.

The device would give the theatre access to a much larger film library for double bills of classic movies, and presumably draw more patrons excited to see new flicks the weekend of wide release.

"Part of (the process of) getting the digital projector is securing the long-term future at the theatre," Burghardt said.

SECURING THE FUTURE

The lack of a long-term lease means he could be left with one very expensive piece of equipment but no venue in which to play movies if the landlord finds a new tenant or sells the building.

He said the owners want to increase rent 75 per cent, which the theatre cannot afford based on the number of patrons they're averaging — sometimes fewer than 10 on weekends.

A new digital projector could breathe new life into the cinema, but Burghardt is concerned about taking on a major liability without any long-term assurances from the building's owner, #9 Holdings.

This catch-22 has left both parties at a standstill for years, but there is still the possibility the show will go on even if Burghardt is not operating the cinema.Clova Cinema

Gail Nelson of #9 Holdings said her company is in discussions with other prospective tenants, one of whom is interested in screening movies if Burghardt was to leave.

"There's actually options in both directions," she said, adding an entirely different type of small business could also set up shop inside the walls of the distinct red and burgundy building.

Nelson added Burghardt was offered a "good deal" last year for a long-term lease, but she hasn't heard from him since.

Furthermore, she said talk of a 75-per-cent rent hike is "out of context" and her company's offer was "considerably well below market value."

'FILM IS DYING'

The difference between film and digital is similar to lugging around a vinyl record player while everyone else listens to music on their iPods.

The quality of film may be unmatched, but its practicality is sharply waning.

It's simply not worth it for studios to continue shipping expensive film reels across the continent. This leaves small-theatre owners  with little choice but to invest in the costly digital machines or be left with an ever-dwindling cache of films to screen.

For Burghardt, the future of the Clova isn't going to rest solely on film screenings.

Events such as last December's Christmas pageant and variety show, and a summertime fundraiser based on The Amazing Race TV show have drawn big crowds.

The theatre has also booked bands and served as a shooting location for movies and TV shows — most notably Smallville.

Burghardt said he wants to broaden the customer base and give loyal patrons more to do since it's clear to him the current business model is not sustainable.

"Film is dying. It's really hard to get product now — really hard,"

he said.

"I've only got the Lego movie. That will hold us for a while, but after that I don't know."

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