A leap of faith for the Waimate Regent Theatre Trust is paying off.
Until 2016, the trust was still using a 35mm film projector at the Regent Theatre, in central Waimate.
The problem was, films were increasingly being distributed in digital.
Faced with the prospect of purchasing a digital projector or a slow death, the trust decided to “bite the bullet”, Waimate Regent Theatre Trust chairwoman Judi White said.
The trust was set up in the 1980s, and has been entirely staffed by volunteers since.
The total cost of the new projector and a new sound system was more than $100,000, so it was a big call to make for the ageing committee, Ms White said.
“We deliberated and deliberated, and then we decided just to go for it.
“We had a bit of a fundraising push, and got some grants.
“It was the social aspect of a night out at the movies we were thinking about preserving, more than anything.”
Happier than most to see the new digital projector installed was projectionist Donald Dennison.
With the old system, while movie-goers sat and relaxed and watched their film, Mr Dennison would be in the projection room, frantically organising film reels and alternating between two projectors.
The old projectors were very noisy, he said, and flames would often shoot out from the carbon arc the projector used to light the film.
A two-hour film would contain about 10 reels, and they would often not be wound properly when they arrived at the theatre, leading to some frantic moments for Mr Dennison behind-the-scenes.
Because it was expensive to print the movie on to a film, there was a limited number produced – and Waimate would often be last in line.
If the movie did particularly well in the bigger centres, the date could be pushed back further than the trust had already advertised it would screen the film.
Now, Waimate can get movies as soon as a week after their premiere date.
Mr Dennison loads the film, keys in a code, sets the sound and even gets to sit in the cinema and watch the movie – not a luxury he was previously afforded.
“It is a piece of cake now.”
After struggling for the first two years after the installation of digital, the crowds have been steadily coming through the doors, and trust members have noticed an increase of people travelling up from Oamaru after the closure of the town’s cinema last year.
Last year, Bohemian Rhapsodyand A Star is Born were popular for all ages, Ms White said.
“We are glad we got the new projector. There are still some movies we don’t make any money off, but it is swings and roundabouts.
“We try to have a mix of movies so there is something for everyone.”
The theatre often holds fundraising events for community groups who can take a percentage of the sales.
“It is a win-win,” Ms White said.
“For us, it puts bums on seats, and for the group, all they have to do is book the movie and push people to come along – it’s much easier than selling raffle tickets.”
The Regent Theatre was built in the 1950s as a cinema, with a 700-seat capacity.
“You had to book ahead on a Saturday night, if you didn’t book you didn’t necessarily get a seat,” Ms White said.
Since then, a stage had been added to diversify what the theatre could be used for, and the seats have been replaced.
“Today’s bodies are a bit different to bodies back then.”
The theatre now seats 351 people, and still maintains the 1950s theme, with intermission, pre-dipped chocolate ice-creams and ushers who check everyone is seated.
The prices are certainly cheaper than the bigger centres – $10 for an adult ticket.
“They haven’t been changed for a few years, but we want to get bums on seats,” Ms White said.
Apart from the movies, the theatre hosts six to eight stage shows a year – from school productions to Highland dancing competitions.
The trust members all agreed there was something magic about going to the movies.
“There is something about it,” Ms White said.
“I can still remember the first movie I went to.”