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Bemidji Theatre plans to install high-quality digital projectors

Movie patrons purchase matinee tickets at the Bemidji Theatre Friday afternoon. The theater hopes to be converted to all digital by spring. Pioneer Photo/Monte Draper

Bemidji Theatre will be installing new, high-quality digital projectors in 2012.

The projectors and related equipment, estimated to cost about $750,000, are anticipated to be installed before summer begins, according to Dwight Gunderson, director of film buying for Cinema Entertainment Corp.

Using state-of-the-art digital projectors eliminates the use of 35 mm film. This means that picture quality will not degrade over multiple showings.

It also allows theaters to explore the use of alternative content, a growing sector of cinema that is still in its infancy.

With alternative content, theaters can experiment with different live or recorded showings that range from opera to sporting events. This gives people the opportunity to view events they might not otherwise be able to see.

"It really depends on what (a market's) interest is," Gunderson said. "We have to try to measure if that interest is high enough to justify the cost to bring it to the theater."

Showing alternative content is something that Bemidji resident Pamela Olson has been encouraging the Bemidji Theatre to do. Olson is a supporter of the opera and often travels to Fargo, N.D., to watch showings of Metropolitan Opera Live in HD, a series of live opera performances transmitted from New York City.

"I would go to Fargo as often as I can," Olson said.

Traveling to Fargo to take in the opera doesn't always fit into Olson's schedule, or budget. Olson says there is a strong group of opera enthusiasts that would love to bring the opera in Bemidji.

"I see such a wonderful arts community here," Olson said. "I believe it would be such an enhancement."

Jennifer Swanson, associate professor and music department chair at Bemidji State, would also like to see the opera in Bemidji.

Swanson has viewed broadcasts by the Metropolitan Opera in Winnipeg and she has attended many major opera houses throughout the world. Being able to see alternative content, such as the opera, in Bemidji would let audience members experience these events without the travel.

"It really is the closest thing you can get to actually being there," Swanson said. "I think it would be great. There is a lot of support in the community."

Opera is one of the most popular showings at theaters across the country, but other content, such as 3D movies and live concerts are also well received. Ticket prices for alternative content are generally higher than a movie, with prices potentially ranging from $12-20.

Three major companies produce the alternative content: NCM Fathom, Cinedigm Digital Cinema and Specticast.

Cinema Entertainment Corp. will look at alternative content options and decide if any of them will be a good fit for the Bemidji market.

"There's a whole kind of experimentation process, and that's what we'll do," Gunderson said. "It allows us the opportunity to try other things."