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Mahwah Grads Filming Documentary On The Death Of Movie Theaters

The film, which the duo hopes to premiere at film festivals this fall, explores that state of small, local movie theaters in the face of a digital conversion

The future of local movie theaters in the face of an industry-mandated digital conversion this year is the topic of a documentary film that two Mahwah High School graduates hope will catapult their budding filmmaking careers.

Nick Homler and Carolyn Rivas, current Marist College seniors who graduated from MHS in 2009, have partnered with the Adirondack Film Society to turn their school filmmaking project into a full-length feature documentary.

Last year, Homler attended the ‘Sleepless in Lake Placid’ film forum, where he says he was inspired by one of the event’s discussions about the uncertain future of small, local movie theaters like the Lafayette in Suffern, NY and the Ramsey Cinemas in Ramsey.

“They are facing a digital conversion,” Homler told Patch. “Basically, all of the big movie companies are switching from reels to digital films, and if theaters don’t pay to update their equipment, and learn how to use and fix the new digital projectors, they are going to be forced to go out of business.”

For small theaters across the country, Homler says the economic impact of switching systems is life-threatening. Converting to the new system – which has to happen by the end of the year – will cost local theater owners $70,000 to $100,000 per screen.

“I was surprised to learn about this, but I really feel that in a year it will be major news,” Homler said. The future of local theaters piqued his interest.

In the market for a capstone film project at Marist, the Radio, TV & Film and Interactive Media major gathered three of his friends, Rivas, Nick Davis, from Queens and Kevin Mahoney, from Rockland County, to help him make the movie. Together, the quartet traveled to several local theaters, interviewed owners, sought out industry experts and put together a 13-minute documentary for one of Homler’s classes last semester. Rather than satisfying the group’s interest in the topic, the short film only inspired them to find out more.

After returning to Lake Placid to show his short film to the industry experts who first introduced him to the idea, Homler scored the backing of members of the Adirondack Film Society. The group is currently working to turn the short into a full-length documentary. 

The group plans to finish production on ‘The Shared Experience’ this summer, in time to submit it to film festivals across the country this fall. The film society, he said, is helping the new filmmakers produce it, get grant funding, and may even supply the film with a celebrity narrator.

“It’s clicking,” Homler said of the project. “It’s like, when all of these resources come together, and all of these people are interested in and supporting what you’re doing, you’ve got the right blend of ingredients and you know it’s the right time to go for it.”

And, the group says it hopes their movie will raise public awareness about the conversion. So far, Homler said he’s found one local theater – the Lafayette in Suffern – that will remain open, thanks to a municipal grant and “a lot” of community donations and financial support. But, the filmmakers fear many others will not be so lucky.

“This film should inspire people to embrace the history and love within films and movie theaters,” Rivas said. “The public should be more than an audience; they need to fight for what is important, which includes the arts and historical venues such as movie theaters. This film will educate people about how necessary film is within our country and culture.”

‘The Shared Experience,’ according to Homler, is changing, and the film will reflect that.

“There is a whole generation of people that is experiencing movies differently,” he said. And, he hopes his film will be one that’s appreciated across new formats.

“I want [the documentary] to be Netflix worthy,” he said.

Submit your questions or news tips to jessica.mazzola@patch.com. And, remember to sign up for Patch's daily newsletter, and get updates on Facebook and Twitter.

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