This Touching Documentary Explores the Dying Art of Film Projection

Even though there are still plenty of big films being shot on 35mm, most movies are now projected digitally. Paramount was apparently the first studio to stop sending film prints to theaters, but before long 35mm film prints will be non-existent (at least for new releases). With 35mm prints disappearing, so too are film projectionists, a job which is now much simpler due to Digital Cinema Packages delivered on hard drives and loaded onto servers. The short doc Going Dark: The Final Days of Film Projection, directed by Jason Gwynn and Jay Sheldon, explores the end of an era, and why disappearing film prints has actually meant the closing of many independent theaters.

While digital projection is superior in many ways (mostly because what you're seeing is coming from the original negative, not a dupe negative converted to a positive), it's easy to be nostalgic about the way movies have been seen since the beginning. Interestingly enough, there may even be some psychological differences between watching a movie on a film print versus watching it projected digitally, so it's not necessarily just nostalgia talking when people express a different feeling depending on the way they are experiencing a movie.

Either way, the biggest loss in all of this is definitely the many small independent theaters that could not afford to changeover to digital.


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We should adapt to change old things seems classy now we should see how to get best out of digital era

August 21, 2014 at 3:03AM, Edited September 4, 8:56AM


And while we're at it, we should learn to punctuate.

August 22, 2014 at 10:48AM, Edited September 4, 8:56AM


For every grammar nazi there's Nurnberg there somewhere in the Wold.

August 22, 2014 at 12:28PM, Edited September 4, 8:56AM


By that logic we should also accept a sub par standard of viewing when going to the cinema and except that it will never have the colours, resolution or fact that you are showing 24fps through a light bulb. Change is not always for the better. Bellow are comparisons of format:
Sony Digital Projector = 4K resolution, colours lacking depth.
Digital Laser Projector = 4K resolution, better colours, still not matching 70mm!
35mm Film Projected = 6K resolution, good colours depth and unique palette
70mm Film Projected = 12 - 18K resolution, Breathtaking image, colours are very good and produce a range that colours not achievable digitally.
By the comparison above your point of view is that we should just accept it for the way things are regardless of more important things such as bit depth, resolution and colour.

June 30, 2015 at 1:42PM, Edited June 30, 1:46PM


I work as a News photographer. I was a film projectionist in college and worked on a story about this very subject.

August 21, 2014 at 4:48AM, Edited September 4, 8:56AM


This video is an accurate portrayal of how the projectionist feels about his work.
What it does not show is the theatricality of the performance when screening a film.
Whilst it's true that digital formats should be capable of delivering that theatrical experience, the film makers do not understand, are not taught, how to incorporate showmanship into their movie. The technology forbids personal interaction; the robot-technicians have taken over the job and they rarely understand the art form of screening a motion picture. It's that quality of the projectionist being a showman, the last performer in a long line of performers and artists who made the movie, and made it, an experience of a lifetime. That's what has really been lost.

August 21, 2014 at 7:10AM, Edited September 4, 8:56AM

Desmond Rutherford

Working as a projectionist for four years now. Experienced the switch from film to digital. Screening the Almodovar "Todo sobre mi madre" on 35mm tommorrow. Could it be my last one?

Here's another nice video on the subject:

August 21, 2014 at 9:48AM, Edited September 4, 8:56AM


Jesus this brings back memories. Was a projectionist for 2 years and manager for 6 in a booth with Strong platters/projectors. Sadly the theatre closed down right when digital projection was being rolled out. I still remember the motions of threading through the film gate and being mindful of making a loop just right at the intermittent sprocket. Taking the projector apart to furiously clean dust build up between intermissions, only to have it come back after shows. Fond memories.

August 21, 2014 at 2:18PM, Edited September 4, 8:56AM


Surprised no one as brought up "Cinema Paradiso", the best homage to a projectionist ever.
Having said that, digital makes a projectionist out of all of us. Just connect a cable from a Blu-Ray to your Epson-Optima-InFocus-Toshiba-Panasonic-Sony-JVC-BenQ-Christie-Barco (pick one, depending on your budget) and focus the beam onto a Da-Lite-Dukane-Planar-Stewart (pick one) screen and you're in business.

August 21, 2014 at 7:39PM, Edited September 4, 8:56AM


>and why disappearing film prints has actually meant the closing of many independent theaters

Boo-hoo-hoo, what a tragedy. Invest in modern digital technology or die off, simple as that.

August 22, 2014 at 12:10PM, Edited September 4, 8:56AM


If you understand the Virtual Print Fee (VPF), you'll know that small theaters got the short end of the stick in the digital changeover. Big theaters would have had trouble investing in digital as well were it not for the VPF. So it's far more complicated than just "invest in modern technology."

August 22, 2014 at 1:27PM, Edited September 4, 8:56AM

Joe Marine
Camera Department

watched a Christie promo today about a US Southeast based chain that went "high end" with a stacked twin 4K projector system + plush seats, etc ... in any case, IMO, it''s a gross simplification to say that small theaters got screwed by the major distributors ... a shrewd move for the smaller theater chain owners would have been to go after a high end, independent, foreign film, the second run and live event markets ... besides, they could have formed an own co-op, as is the norm for folks in the retail business, and retained some form of a negotiating power visavis the majors ...

August 22, 2014 at 5:21PM, Edited September 4, 8:56AM


Being a filmmaker for over 40 years, I've watched the exhibition of theatrical films advance from the mechanical age to the digital age. From a creative standpoint, I've embraced the digital age because the original vision I've have for a movie is as close to being retained on the digital screen as I had seen it in my mind.
Consider this...Even with the best mechanical projection equipment, film degrades after every showing.
How would da Vinci have felt if his Mona Lisa became scratched, faded, and parts of his frame missing as so often occurs with 35mm film projection? For me, digital has been a Godsend. It has allowed filmmakers like myself to compete with the big boys. Digital projection has begun to level the playing field. No longer must one pay $1.5k per print to have a film shown in theaters. An off-the-shelf hard drive can now be loaded with a theatrical feature at a quarter of the cost of a film print. Consider also the cost pf shipping six reels of 35mm film...fifty pounds minimum versus five pounds for a hard drive.
The digital age has democratized the film making process and I can only see it becoming more so in the future.
Than God for ones and zeros!

August 22, 2014 at 5:55PM, Edited September 4, 8:56AM


I agree. I recently went to a theater that upgraded to digital projection and the difference was night and day. The picture is so much better with the new projectors.

August 29, 2014 at 12:09AM, Edited September 4, 8:56AM