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Digital Cinema is coming to The Maltings Theatre & Cinema in March

Fri 19 Oct

It’s “lights, camera, action!” for digital cinema at The Maltings Theatre & Cinema in four months’ time

In the closing frames of the 1950 film noir classic, Sunset Boulevard, Gloria Swanson’s character, the faded silent film star Norma Desmond, utters one of celluloid’s most famous lines, “All right, Mr. DeMille, I'm ready for my close-up.”

Now, thanks to a grant from Northumberland County Council, The Maltings Theatre & Cinema is ready for its own historic film moment: the arrival of state-of-the-art digital cinema.

England’s northernmost theatre has signed an agreement to proceed with a digital installation in its Main House Theatre in late-February next year. The new system will cost some £75,000 with almost £60,000 being contributed as an Invest to Save grant from Northumberland County Council. The new technology will include a digital projector, Dolby Surround Sound and a screen that is a staggering 86% larger than the current one.

Matthew Rooke, Chief Executive & Artistic Director of The Maltings announced, “I am truly delighted that Northumberland County Council has been able to back our vision to give the people of Berwick a quality cinema experience that will rival that on offer in any major city.”

In addition to vastly improved audio and visual quality, audiences will see new release films in Berwick much sooner. Currently, The Maltings receives 35mm celluloid prints 6-8 weeks after official UK release. Once digital is installed, however, it is expected that wait time will be cut in half.

Head of Marketing and Film Programming, Tamiko Mackie, enthused, “This is a total game changer. In the past three years The Maltings has become one of the region’s leading independent cinemas by playing to its strengths: we show 200 different titles a year at a reasonable ticket price, right on Berwick’s doorstep. From next March, when we can offer films shortly after the multiplex giants in Newcastle and Edinburgh, the missing puzzle piece will finally fall into place.”

To add to the anticipation, it is not just new release films that The Maltings will be able to offer. A new exciting world of entertainment can be beamed via satellite directly to the digital system including live music and concerts, opera, ballet and much more. This is of particular interest to Berwick’s MP, Sir Alan Beith.

Sir Alan explained, “When I wrote to Matthew Rooke on his appointment back in January, I said that I very much hoped that the people of Berwick and the surrounding communities would soon be able to share the fabulous range of work already available elsewhere by companies such as the Royal Opera and Royal National Theatre. I am absolutely delighted to hear that in just a few months’ time, this digital upgrade will enable Berwick to share in some of the finest cultural events on offer worldwide, in addition of course to being able to enjoy the latest films in even better style than before.”

With the arrival of digital The Maltings will not only offer a better service to its audience, it will literally ensure the survival of its film provision: Despite being the industry standard for over 120 years the death of the 35mm celluloid format in Western Europe is predicted by the end of 2014. And by 2015, 35mm will be used for just 17% of global movie screens, relegating it to a niche projection format. This makes the digital revolution the biggest shake up in the history of cinema since silent films gave way to “talkies” and colour eclipsed black-and-white. And just like those seismic shifts it seems to be happening “overnight”.

Tamiko emphasised, “It is staggering how quickly 35mm is becoming obsolete. As each month passes there are more films I am unable to book in simply because of the scarcity of prints. Most distributors still make at least one print that often takes ages to get to Berwick, but I’ve just found out we can’t show Tim Burton’s new family film Frankenweenie because Disney is making zero celluloid prints. It’s astounding and of course really sad too. Thank goodness we’re converting to digital just in time so that our film programme will not only survive but thrive.”

The Maltings will however retain its 35mm projector and roll it out for special occasions. Even with the “death” of 35mm, the vast majority of pre-existing films will unfortunately never be transferred to a digital format. It is the theatre’s interest to hold on to an asset that will soon be considered invaluable specialist equipment.

19 October 2012

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The Maltings is operated by The Maltings (Berwick) Trust Registered Charity No: 701194