Colorado's rural movie houses go digital
The Sands Theatre in Brush wasn't Colorado's only rural theater that was having trouble transitioning to the digital age. Nineteen theaters expressed interested in the Save Our Screens initiative; thirteen applied for grants. Ten of them, including the Sands, raised the matching funds to become eligible and win grants from Downtown Colorado Inc. Below are the other nine.
Plains Theater, Eads
Now known as the Crow-Luther Cultural Events Center, the Plains Theater got its start in 1947 as a movie house built inside a circa 1916 garage. The theater screened pictures until it closed in the mid-'80s, then reopened once a year during the Kiowa County Fair. In 2006 a group of high-schoolers banded together to preserve the theater, and a nonprofit was formed to reopen it as the Crow-Luther Cultural Events Center. #DigitizeThePlains, a community-funded project, recently raised more than $60,000 so that the theater could make the leap to digital.
Flagler Theatre, Flagler
The art-deco-style Flagler Theatre, which opened in 1930, still has perfectly preserved, vintage hand-painted murals and hardwood floors. It was purchased by the Witt family in the mid-'70s, and they continue to operate the theater in the small town of 600 on the far eastern edge of Colorado. To raise money to make the transition to digital, Cheryl Witt began selling "cinna-reel" cinnamon rolls and other baked goods to raise funds. With help from the community and the modest but mighty bake sales, the Witts were able to raise close to $30,000 for a new projection system.
Fox Theatre, Walsenburg
The Fox Theatre, now known as the Spanish Peaks Alliance for Arts and Education, originally opened in 1917 as the Star Theatre, then became the Valencia Theatre in 1929 and the Fox Theatre in 1941; it was closed in the '80s. Reopened in 1992 by the nonprofit Huerfano County Youth and Arts Foundation, the nearly century-old building still boasts a beautiful, curvy art-deco marquee. The theater is run with the help of volunteers, showing current box-office hits and hosting community-oriented events. In 2013, the center raised enough money to meet DCI's grant-funding requirement and purchase its digital cinema projector.
Liberty Theatre, Pagosa Springs
In operation since 1919, the Liberty Theatre is the fourth-oldest theater in the state and has Colorado landmark status. It's currently owned and operated by Mark and Cindi Monaco, who spearheaded a drive to save the vintage venue — which, like many of these rural theaters, still had a fifty-plus-year-old projector in excellent working condition that showed films five days a week. The Pagosa Springs community raised more than $20,000 to replace the projector through live-music benefits, special dinners, online crowd-funding and help from a private investor.
Storyville Cinema, Salida
One of two theaters still in operation in the Salida area, Storyville Cinema has been owned and operated by Amy Helm since 2005. With a successful online fundraising campaign, Storyville was able to raise more than $50,000 to convert the two-screen theater to digital cinema projection.
Jones Theater, Westcliffe
In the 1920s, the Jones Theater opened in a building that had started as a pool hall and saloon in the late 1800s, and it was still using 35mm carbon arc projectors from 1928 until the recent switch to digital projection. In 1992, former stage and screen actress Anne Kimbell Relph bought the Jones, forming the nonprofit Westcliffe Center for the Performing Arts, whichhas been bringing live theater, dance, first-run films and more to the area ever since. Through online crowd-funding and local fundraising efforts, the Jones was able to reach its goal and get a new projection system.
Backdoor Theater, Nederland
A nonprofit operation, the Backdoor Theater is run by Kayla Evans, who's been there for more than a decade. Showing films on Friday and Saturday evenings, the theater keeps prices low (concession-stand treats start at just fifty cents) while still bringing in first-run blockbusters and booking live theater and concerts. To raise funds for the transition to digital, the Backdoor held special movie nights and hosted spaghetti dinners; it met its goal last year.
Paradise Theatre, Paonia
Another multi-purpose community venue, the Paradise Theatre in Paonia has served as a movie house, stage for live theater and community gathering place for more than eighty years. But what makes the Paradise truly special to North Fork Valley residents is its emphasis not just on blockbuster films, but on smaller, independent features, which are shown during the Cabin Fever Film Series, a part of the programming here for two decades. Through online crowd-funding and local charity events, the theater was able to raise more than $43,000 to put toward digital conversion.
Movie Picture Showhouse, Trinidad
The Movie Picture Showhouse in Trinidad has been showing films for close to twenty years. Along with serving the community by bringing first-run features to the rural area, the Showhouse is also outfitted with two "suites" available for rent, family-friendly viewing rooms ideal for small children. The theater is currently owned and operated by the International Bank, which put up the funding necessary to match grant funds, securing the Movie Picture Showhouse's jump into the digital age.
Get the This Week's Top Stories Newsletter
Every week we collect the latest news, music and arts stories — along with film and food reviews and the best things to do this week — so that you’ll never miss Westword's biggest stories.