Community works to save theater
May 15, 2013
By Dan Aznoff
The tranquil image of the small-town business Cindy and Jim Walker imagined when they purchased the North Bend Theatre has crashed head first into the business side of Hollywood.
The proprietors of the single-screen movie house on Bendigo Boulevard were told they must invest in digital projection equipment to meet the requirements of distributors or lose access to the latest film releases. The owners of the 72-year-old theater have turned to the community to save their beloved movie house.
“We quietly hoped that the North Bend Theatre would escape the digital revolution and continue to exist in the world of 35mm film for years to come,” Cindy Walker admitted. “But, such is not the case. Film is rapidly disappearing as movie distributors ramp up their complete conversion to digital distribution and projection of movies.”
Walker also hoped that by the time her one-screen operation was forced to make the switch to digital projection the price of new equipment would drop to a level that would allow independent theater owners to justify the upgrade.
The price of digital projection has dropped in the past five years from more than a half-million dollars to “only” $100,000, according to Walker. That’s still more than her small business can afford.
A public campaign
Following the lead of other independent theaters across the country, Walker started a very public campaign to raise the needed funds from the community. She has used everything from social media to face-to-face solicitation. In simple terms, she said, the North Bend Theatre needs 1,000 supporters to contribute $100 each.
Walker makes it clear that the North Bend Theatre does not operate as a nonprofit organization, so any donations to help keep the doors open must be considered a gift and are not tax-deductible.
She emphasized that the theater has always been a profitable business, but does not generate the type of revenue to justify the cost of the digital upgrade.
A website dedicated to the cause tracks contributions. Gifts from individuals and local organizations have already amounted to more than 20 percent of what Walker said she needs to keep the doors open.
Donations from the Boxley Music Fund and local patrons Danny and Robin Kolke gave the fund an initial boost. Individual contributions continue to come through the website as well as from local residents who walk up to the box office with a check.
Walk of Fame
Donors who contribute $5,000 toward the digital projector will be remembered with a “Hollywood Boulevard”-style star in the North Bend Theatre Walk of Fame. Other donor levels will be honored with 6-inch and 10-inch engraved bronze stars permanently mounted in the lobby.
“We were pleased to contribute to this worthy cause,” said movie lovers Miriam and Kyle Kroschel, of North Bend. “Here’s to many more wonderful years of entertainment at the North Bend Theatre.”
Regular patrons Jim and Monica Rutherford added, “We love the theater. It’s part of North Bend.”
The upgraded projection system, according to Walker, will allow the intimate venue to screen the latest releases from Hollywood, including those only available in 3D.
“Digital projection produces a stunning image,” Walker said. “Gone will be annoying scratches and shaky movement of film and sound that is often compromised by the constant handling of films.”
The North Bend Theatre opened its doors as an independent movie theatre on April 9, 1941, and has brought films like “The Wizard of Oz” to moviegoers in the Snoqualmie Valley.
The film house underwent a major renovation when it was purchased by the Slover family in 1999. The new owners retained the original art deco style of the movie house while upgrading the lobby, restrooms and concession areas.
The upgrade included a larger screen, a state-of-the-art Dolby Sound System and, ironically, a new 35mm film projector.
Family ownership tradition
Cindy Walker moved north with her husband and three daughters from Southern California in 1983.
They maintained the theater’s tradition of family ownership when they purchased the iconic business in May 2006. She is proud of the theater’s participation in the community and her personal role in the art community throughout the Valley.
If her campaign to save the theater is successful, Walker said she hopes to maintain special events like the Banff Mountain Film Festival and the International Fly Fishing Film Festival. Walker also has plans to develop her own North Bend Mountain Film Festival and Amateur Film Challenge.
Walker took a deep sigh and smiled when she shared the one upside of operating a single-screen independent theater in an industry dominated by corporate multiplex competitors is that she only needs to raise enough money to purchase one projector.
“We hope to be able to continue to offer the latest movies and popcorn at small-town prices,” Walker said. “Donations will allow the theater to continue to be a viable part of the community for generations to come.”
How to help
Make a donation to save the North Bend Theatre at www.gofundme.com/2b5f9c.
Dan Aznoff was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for his coverage of the toxic waste crisis in California. He is now a freelance writer who makes his home in Bellevue. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.