Tampa Bay's oldest, longest-running movie palace is catching up with 21st century technology.
Tampa Theatre announced Thursday that its adding a digital projection system that will be completed by April 30. On that day, the 86-year-old venue will celebrate by opening its doors to the community for a free 7 p.m. screening of the documentary Samsara.
The digital makeover comes as changes in movie distribution threaten the future of theaters sticking to their celluloid guns. Film is rapidly becoming extinct as studios prefer the easier distribution, clearer images and better durability of digital prints.
Without the digital set-up, Tampa Theatre would eventually be unable to show first-run movies such as its current film On the Road and next week's The Place Beyond the Pines that soon won't be available in film prints. Industry reports suggest the end of film distribution may arrive by the end of 2013.
The theater's 35mm projectors will still be around, because they'll be used for certain archival films.
Tampa Theatre's improvements include the installation of a Christie CP-2220 digital projector with all the technical trimmings, plus new speakers behind the screen.
The makeover isn't cheap. A year of fundraising from community leaders and businesses netted $88,664 of the estimated $137,000 the project will cost. That was enough to get the project under way.
"But now, we need to finish paying that bill, and we hope that our community — which has already been so generous — will continue to support our efforts," said Tampa Theatre president and CEO John Bell in a news release.
Steve Persall can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8365. Follow him on Twitter @StevePersall.