MORAGA -- The California Independent Film Festival Association is doubling down, adding new digital equipment at the New Rheem Theatre and introducing Joanne Foy as the 2012 film festival program director.
"The major studios have given all theaters until 2013 to go digital, so you have no choice," explains Derek Zemrak, film festival president and founder. "They are no longer producing 35 mm films. Based on that, we have to be able to convert to digital format."
With the ticket price for purchasing and installing digital projectors for each screen approaching $70,000, small independent theaters like those in Moraga and Orinda are scrambling to raise funds in an already cutthroat environment.
Zemrak is quick to counter any suggestion of failure.
"The Rheem is here, it's just a matter of strategizing how to make it flourish. We saved it two years ago when we came here and have no intention of anything other than to continue," he states unequivocally.
As proof, he emails a hefty list of local businesses and individuals who have supported the push for digital capability (Allied Waste Management, Ellen/Joffa Dale Foundation, Pacific Rim Recycling, Heritage Bank, Moraga Kiwanis, Janet Peargin/Chevron Matching Fund, Hilda Richards, Mechanics Bank, "several anonymous donors") and highlights a $10,000 check arriving from Wells Fargo on July 12.
Surprisingly, the new equipment will be installed in the 107-seat Zemrak Theater, not
"Once a movie is ordered in digital format it has to stay in that (digital]) theater. If a blockbuster like 'The Avengers' popped up, we wouldn't have the flexibility to take advantage of increased ticket sales by moving it into the big theater," he says. "Eventually, we'll need three more packages and we will achieve it, because the community is behind it."
Digital films offer cleaner sound, and because they are not spliced together -- which in a 35 mm film creates a little black spot every 20 minutes that most viewers don't even notice -- studios believe the presentation is cleaner.
Zemrak acknowledges the grainy texture and artistic attributes of the old format will never be abandoned by true film buffs, and the Rheem will continue to showcase both formats. Recently, the owners of Orinda's Theater Square agreed to purchase digital equipment at a future date.
In the meantime, "old school" films and those released by independent studios (which continue to use the 35 mm format) will continue to fill nondigital screens at both locations.
"We won't lack for great movies," Zemrak promises.
In November, the California Independent Film Festival Association also guarantees a new vision for its annual festival, courtesy of board member and longtime supporter Joanne Foy.
"Joanne has been involved for over 10 years," Zemrak reports. "She was a volunteer for our first Gala night and has done every aspect for the festival. She was at the very first Sundance Film Festival, when it started in the libraries. That's how far back her interest goes."
Thanking longtime director Beau Behan for his years of dedication, Zemrak says doors are opening due to Foy's industry connections.
"She's already contacted the Harvey Weinstein group and they would like to have one of their films shown at our festival. She's forming strategic alliances to bring the best of the best from around the world."
Community Liaison Edy Schwartz, in a news release, calls Foy "an invaluable asset to our team" and praises her experience, passion, and "knowledge of the importance of community involvement for the success of the festival."
Because the Bay Area is rife with film festivals, CAIFF is rejiggering its timing. Competing with the bigger players on the circuit was increasingly tricky, and Zemrak, while celebrating audience enthusiasm, says, "Let's have them all, but not have them overlap each other."
Jumping to the head of the line, the 15th Annual CAIFF will be held Nov. 8-11. A Sundance Film Showcase, which began with the Oscar -nominated documentary "Waste Land" on Aug. 1, will launch the Rheem's second fundraising climb for digital retrofitting. Direct, 100 percent deductible donations to support CAIFF's goal of complete digital conversion for the two complexes can be made at