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SF’s Balboa Theatre Says It May Close if It Can’t Raise Enough Money to Convert to Digital

| August 20, 2013
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By Victor Casillas Valle, Ocean Beach Bulletin

The Balboa Theatre’s glowing lights illuminate the street from blocks away, but operators say the theater could go dark if it can’t pay to install digital projection equipment. (Victor Casillas Valle/Ocean Beach Bulletin)

The Balboa Theatre’s glowing lights illuminate the street from blocks away, but operators say the theater could go dark if it can’t pay to install digital projection equipment. (Victor Casillas Valle/Ocean Beach Bulletin)

The Richmond District’s Balboa Theatre could close if it can’t raise enough money to fund a conversion from film projection to digital, the owners say, and they’re asking the public for help.

To keep up with the U.S. movie industry’s conversion to digital projection, the Balboa must convert its equipment. But the bill is high for the neighborhood theater: $150,000.

Deadline to convert

“Thirty-five millimeter has been the way that people watch movies for 110 to 120 years. We’ve had digital projection capabilities for a number of years. However, by the end of 2013, the big distributors will be switching completely to digital, so they won’t be making 35 millimeter film at all,” said Adam Bergeron, theater manager and co-founder of theater operator CinemaSF.

The problem is that the Balboa’s two auditoriums are made to play only 35 mm films, and the digital conversion will involve revamping not just the projectorssan frbut also the sound in both rooms.

The money is a lot to pay for a neighborhood theater operator, even when Bergeron’s CinemaSF and the Balboa’s partner, the San Francisco Neighborhood Theater Foundation, combine their efforts. So, the project has been put on hold.

To help take the edge off the cost, the theater has begun a Kickstarter campaign titled “Balboa Theatre: Go Digital or Go Dark,” which it is hoped will generate enough money to convert one of its theaters.

obb-logo-320Any extra funds raised beyond the $75,000 mark will be put toward the conversion of the second auditorium, according to the Kickstarter pitch.

The Kickstarter campaign is scheduled to end Sept. 27, but Bergeron said if the effort doesn’t work the Balboa will have to close.

Neighborhood anchor

The Balboa, with red velvet gracing the entrances, old movie posters around the walls and the classic smell of popcorn in the lobby, opened in 1926. Since then, it has shown first-run films but also has been home to foreign films, double bills and many other special features.

It is nestled in the Balboa Street commercial corridor between 36th and 38th avenues, home to a number of restaurants, coffee shops and other businesses. In the neighborhood surrounding the Balboa, the thought of the theater closing down has been met with shock and worry.

Margarita Rossi, an usher at the Balboa Theatre, stands at concessions stand in the lobby. (Victor Casillas Valle/Ocean Beach Bulletin)

Margarita Rossi, an usher at the Balboa Theatre, is seen here at the concessions stand in the lobby. (Victor Casillas Valle/Ocean Beach Bulletin)

“It’s certainly a problem if the Balboa Theatre shuts down. A lot of people go see movies and come here after to eat. It’s also the only theater of its kind around this area,” said Antoine Nacouzi, owner of Victoria’s New York Pizza just across the street from the Balboa. “The theater is important to the area and businesses around here.”

At Simple Pleasures Cafe down the street, owner and coffee roaster Ahmed Riad was surprised by the news of the theater’s situation.

“I didn’t even know,” Riad said. “If we did, we would do whatever we could to help. We have a direct interest to keep them alive for this community – it’s a landmark.”

Rob Meyer, who said he’s a frequent Balboa Theatre moviegoer, said, “I love the Balboa. I look to see what’s playing here first before anywhere else.”

“To see theaters like this fall to the wayside would break my heart,” Meyer added. “This is the kind of theater I like to go to.”

The Balboa Theatre’s lobby is filled with old movie posters and flyers. (Victor Casillas Valle/Ocean Beach Bulletin)

The Balboa Theatre’s lobby is filled with old movie posters and flyers. (Victor Casillas Valle/Ocean Beach Bulletin)

The Kickstarter campaign is currently the main way that patrons can help the Balboa, but the theater plans on having other events to raise money as necessary.

On Nov. 7, a benefit for the San Francisco Neighborhood Theater Foundation will feature horror memorabilia displayed in the lobby, and films owned by Metallica’s Kirk Hammett will be screened in the two auditoriums.

“We have a little more than half raised for the Kickstarter so far,” said Bergeron, “but my worry is that the rest of the way up until our deadline will be a slow, bumpy ride.”

As of Aug. 20, Kickstarter officially listed $44,138 in pledges for the Balboa’s campaign.

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Category: Arts and Culture, News

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  • Kevin Cross

    What about petitioning the city to make this a historic landmark? Or just playing throwback films on 35mm from the golden age