Coming attractions at the Garde: More movies

Mark Comito, production manager at The Garde, gives a tour of the theater's projection booth on Jan. 2.
Mark Comito, production manager at The Garde, gives a tour of the theater's projection booth on Jan. 2. Sean D. Elliot/The Day Buy Photo

The Garde famously began its life as a 1920s movie palace before becoming a performing arts center in 1985. While it has still been screening motion pictures periodically, it is going to start showing even more movies, as it changes to a new technology.

The change is the installation of digital film equipment. The New London venue is gearing up for that shift and is raising funds to help the cause; thus far, it has brought in upwards of $227,000 of its $361,000 goal.

The Garde isn't alone in making the move. Most movie theaters are going digital, since studios are switching over from releasing films on 35mm to offering them only in the digital format.

The hope is that the digital system will be installed and working in time for the Garde's winter film festival, which screens Oscar-nominated releases in February.

In the last few years, the Garde has tended to do its winter Oscar film festival and a few stand-alone events, such as the Manhattan Short Film Festival screening or last year's "Girl Rising" showing.

Exactly how often the Garde will show films in the future is still to be determined.

Garde Executive Director Steve Sigel says, "We hope to get much quicker and more frequent access to new films."

The Garde won't, though, be competing with first-run theaters, he says.

The Garde will continue to present live events - its usual line-up of Broadway shows, opera and orchestra performances, touring band concerts, and so on - but will fold more movies into the mix. Sigel anticipates the Garde will be much more active in showing films during the summer, since it doesn't do a lot of live shows then.

The digital system works this way: the distributor sends a hard drive to the theater, which then downloads the film. Those hard drives cost the movie studios about $150 each - which is one-tenth of what it costs them to make a 35mm print and send it to a cinema.

Sigel says that, for past winter festivals, the Garde hasn't been able to get some films because 35mm reels weren't available. Digital copies should be easier to come by since, once a movie is downloaded from a hard-drive, the hard-drive can be sent elsewhere, he says. A 35mm print has to stay at the theater where it is being shown.

Since the Garde has usually done one screening of a given movie, it has had to wait near the end of the line to get a print, Sigel says. That delay also might have had an effect on picture quality. Even recent films on 35mm can get worn as they are repeatedly played. The image on digital, on the other hand, is clearer than 35mm and stays crisp.

Installing the digital technology at the Garde will be Boston Light and Sound, whose other clients have included the Sundance Film Festival.

The new system opens up other possibilities for the Garde, too - Blu-ray and beyond.

"It's such a new territory for us," Sigel says. "It's conceivable we can project almost any medium, so we're really going to learn it as we go."

Businesses, for instance, might use the system for video conferencing. Mark Comito, the Garde's production manager, says that the theater's current projector is capable of doing PowerPoint presentations but, with the new system, the image can encompass the entire screen or can specify which section of the screen images are shown on.

The new system also will give the Garde the capability of showing 3-D movies or doing live feeds if it wants to. Performers could use it for projections to accompany their live shows.

The theater also will be adding surround sound technology. New speakers will give moviegoers the surround-sound experience that filmmakers intend for their releases. Live shows can use those speakers, too; the speakers could, for instance, add the sound of seagulls as ambient noise behind a scene taking place at the beach.

The Garde's movie screenings have become increasingly popular over the last few years. Its 2013 showing of the Manhattan Short Film Festival attracted more people - about 450 - than any single showing of that fest at any other U.S. location. The Garde's 2013 winter film festival drew its biggest audiences ever.

Unlike a lot of movie theaters that discarded their 35mm projectors, the Garde is keeping its projector, leaving open the potential for the theater to still present the occasional 35mm film.

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