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Laura Seitz, Deseret News
Children from the Neighborhood House run through the rain towards the Tower Theater in Salt Lake City on June 6, 2007.
What the community giving will do is it will take us to the home stretch so we don’t have to reduce our services and let our auditoriums go dark. —Salt Lake Film Society Executive Director Tori Baker

SALT LAKE CITY — Beginning in January, all films in the United States will be distributed digitally, creating a rapidly approaching deadline that has independent, drive-in and art house cinemas scrambling to raise cash.

The Salt Lake Film Society, the state's largest platform for foreign language, documentary and independent film, has turned to the crowdfunding website Kickstarter for a push toward its total $700,000 fundraising goal.

"The tide is here, the iceberg is scraping the bottom of the boat and we’re hanging on," Salt Lake Film Society Executive Director Tori Baker said. "What the community giving will do is it will take us to the home stretch so we don’t have to reduce our services and let our auditoriums go dark."

Through Kickstarter, individual contributors are able to pledge funds to a new product, cause or business in exchange for a sliding scale of rewards. For the Salt Lake Film Society campaign, donors are promised perks ranging from stickers and free popcorn to a private screening party at the Tower Theater.

Baker said the digital transition in 2014 is the equivalent of a "convert or die" scenario for small theaters, which are often mom-and-pop labors of love or nonprofit organizations with relatively scant profit margins. She said the film society hopes to raise $250,000 from patrons and the community, with the remainder coming from grants and other revenue sources.

"We’re hoping to raise $50,000 at least through Kickstarter," she said. "We’ve gotten anything from $5 to $10,000 from individual donors."

She said the society has raised roughly half of its overall $700,000 goal — the amount required to convert seven theater auditoriums at the Broadway Center Cinemas and Tower Theater for digital projection — and a little more than one-fourth of its $250,000 community fundraising goal.

The Kickstarter campaign is slated to run for a single month, culminating on Oct. 8, with film society officials hoping to raise the remainder before 2013 ends.

"If we’re successful with Kickstarter, we’ll have about $100,000 to go in the last quarter of the year," Baker said.

Many independent theaters, including the Broadway and Tower, would not have elected to go digital if the choice were available to them, Baker said. The machinery for film projection is comparably easier to maintain than digital, she said, and many cinephiles hold a reverence for the look and sound of 35 millimeter film. An example of this is the antique projector currently on display in the Broadway Cinemas lobby.

But she said there is also advantages to digital projection, particularly for independent filmmakers. Not only does the new technology provide a clearer and cleaner picture, but Baker said it opens up distribution and screening opportunities to local and small-budget filmmakers who are able to shoot on digital cameras and transport their film on a DVD or portable hard drive.

"There are good positive things about digital," she said. "Most independent filmmakers are making film on digital these days. Self-distribution is becoming a real large component of how we curate our content."

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Baker said she's been pleased with the response from the community and was optimistic the film society would reach its goal. But she added that if auditoriums go dark, it would result in a loss of films that typically do not screen anywhere else in the state.

"We presented 237 films last year; 211 of those would never have come to Utah if it weren’t for the Salt Lake Film Society," Baker said. "If we reduce our services, we’re reducing the connectivity to certain segments of our community."

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