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January 29. 2013 10:46PM

Peterborough theater needs money to convert to digital pictures


Judy and Roy Mills of Hancock are hoping to mark the Peterborough Community Theater's centennial in 2014. (MEGHAN PIERCE PHOTO)

PETERBOROUGH - Like many independent movie houses across the country, the Peterborough Community Theater has been stuck with Hollywood's passive-aggressive ultimatum: Go digital or go dark.

Faced with closing, owners Roy and Judy Mills of Hancock are on a mission to raise $60,000 by March 30 to make the transition.

In about a year to 18 months, small movie theaters owners like the Mills expect the studios to stop making and distributing film prints in favor of all digital copies.

"No more reels. No more films," said Judy Mills.

The technology shift is already hurting the theater that prides itself on premiering blockbusters as well as smaller art films.

"What is happening now is they are making fewer and fewer prints, so it's making it harder for us to open movies and this is making it difficult," she said.

The Mills bought the 95-seat theater four years ago. Originally called The Gem, it opened in 1914 with a 500 seat capacity. Over the past century it has been the town's one and only movie theater and has survived updates, renovations and a fire that nearly burned the building to the ground in 1945. In the 1970s, a stage was added and it became a venue for folk music.

The Gem building, owned by Bruce Hunter, is also used as restaurant and office space. The Peterborough Community Theater occupies a small part of the building.

Matinees are $6 and a box of candy only costs $1.50, which makes for an affordable day at the movies. Judy Mills said they are hoping to keep prices low even after the transition.

Digital film would provide brighter, crisper images, but it's not going to increase the small income from the theater, Judy Mills said.

"We've got 95 seats no matter how you slice it," she said. "That's the important thing we're trying to keep the prices where they are."

People from the community are already stepping forward to help with the fundraising, which may go online at www.kickstarter.com soon, Mills said.

"A lot of theaters all over the country have been using that and have done well with that," she said.

And a few local companies have offered to give the Mills low or for-cost quotes for the project.

If a company completes the work for cost, they may only need to raise $40,000, she said.

When the Mills took over the theater, they focused on building a strong community base. They rent the theater out for birthday parties and let nonprofits use it for free. Monday night the Peterborough Women's Club sold out the theater at $5 a ticket for a Mama Mia sing-a-long showing to raise money and canned goods for two local food banks.

"We could walk away and it wouldn't owe us a dime. But we enjoy the other piece of it, which is the school using it, the French Club, Boy Scouts, the Lions Club, the Sharon Arts Center has used it. It's community and that's what we like about it," Mill said.

"We are both retired so this isn't a needed income, which is a good thing. It's a good thing we're not counting on it," Mills said, laughing. "We have a lot of support. Nobody wants to see the theater close and go away. Our goal is to keep it open and have it celebrate its 100th birthday in September 2014."

Andy Peterson, former state representative and Peterborough real estate broker, compared the theater to Jaffrey's shuttered Park Theatre, which the region has supported reopening.

"I think that one of the reasons that Park Theater has had such steam in Jaffrey is because having a local downtown theater especially like this one that shows first-run movies is a great thing to have. I do think it helps property values. I do think it make a place more desirable to live," he said. "We get really great movies, some of the top-grossing films regularly that day they come out. It's really quite a nice thing."

Peterson raised a few hundred dollars for the digital conversion while hosting a party at his home for supporters of the first Monadnock Film Festival in Keene later this year. The film festival organizers would like to utilize the Peterborough Community Theater as well one day, he said.

"It's important for people to understand that even though it's a for-profit, it contributes a lot and it needs help to do a big project like this," Peterson said.

Contributors can make checks out to the Peterborough Community Theater and in the memo line write "equipment fund for digital conversion," Peterson said.

The Mills can be reached at 562-5694 or millsrj8@msn.com.

mpierce@newstote.com


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