Fire up Those Projectors

35mm film is not dead, despite what you may have heard. It has high-profile supporters including Quentin Tarantino and Christopher Nolan. For it to survive, however, there must be an infrastructure to support it and people who know how to deal with the medium. In the digital era, projectionists are a dying breed and physical copies of films are becoming scarce. But there are rays of hope.

The American Cinematheque is completely renovating the booth in its historic Egyptian Theatre so it will be possible to screen precious nitrate prints. In a press release Martin Scorsese says, “The art of cinema developed with nitrate from its beginnings to the early ’50s, and the silver content gave us a luminosity and a richness that was never quite matched by the safer stocks that followed or their digital reproductions. I’d like to thank all the partners that came together with The Film Foundation-the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, Turner Classic Movies, the Academy Film Archive and the American Cinematheque itself to make this happen..”

The George Eastman Museum, having launched an annual nitrate festival, is now running one nitrate film every month. Coming in September, an original 35mm copy of Portrait of Jennie with its brief Technicolor insert intact.

And this week the Association of Moving Image Archivists and the good folks at Alamo Drafthouse, in partnership with Scorsese’s Film Foundation, are conducting a Film Projection Workshop in Austin, Texas. Other workshop partners include Boston Light & Sound, Kodak, TAMI, and Art House Convergence.

Paramount Theatre - Austin Texas

I took this shot at the Paramount Theatre in Austin in 2013.

The idea isn’t simply to teach young people how to thread a projector. The organizers want a new generation of managers, bookers, and enthusiasts to understand how to deal with all aspects of booking, showing, and caring for 35mm films.

Here is a bullet list of topics being covered:

      • Coordinating with Lending Institutions
      • Archival Industry Standards, Guiding Principles & Best Practices
      • Print Handling and Inspection for Archival Materials
      • Identifying & Creating Cues, Best Practices
      • Format Standards & Empirical Identification for Image
      • Format Standards & Empirical Identification for Sound
      • Variable-speed Principles & Operation
      • Parcel Systems, Hazards, and Best Shipping Practices
      • Advanced Splicing, Splicer Maintenance and Repair
      • Advanced Projector Inspection and Maintenance for Archival Materials
      • Installation and Alignment of Xenon Lamps for Archival Projection, Best Practices
      • Sound Reproducer Alignment


I find all of this highly encouraging. There is no reason that 35mm can’t coexist alongside digital projection…and it would be a crime if audiences couldn’t see what original silver-nitrate prints look like on a giant theater screen. Here’s to all the hard-working people who are making that dream a reality and encouraging young film buffs to appreciate the singular qualities of 35mm.

Leonard Maltin is one of the world’s most respected film critics and historians. He is best known for his widely-used reference work Leonard Maltin’s Movie Guide and its companion volume Leonard Maltin’s Classic Movie Guide, now in its third edition, as well as his thirty-year run on television’s Entertainment Tonight. He teaches at the USC School of Cinematic Arts and appears regularly on Reelz Channel and Turner Classic Movies. His books include The 151 Best Movies You’ve Never Seen, Of Mice and Magic: A History of American Animated Cartoons, The Great Movie Comedians, The Disney Films, The Art of the Cinematographer, Movie Comedy Teams, The Great American Broadcast, and Leonard Maltin’s Movie Encyclopedia. He served two terms as President of the Los Angeles Film Critics Association, is a voting member of the National Film Registry, and was appointed by the Librarian of Congress to sit on the Board of Directors of the National Film Preservation Foundation. He hosted and co-produced the popular Walt Disney Treasures DVD series and has appeared on innumerable television programs and documentaries. He has been the recipient of awards from the American Society of Cinematographers, the Telluride Film Festival, Anthology Film Archives, and San Diego’s Comic-Con International. Perhaps the pinnacle of his career was his appearance in a now-classic episode of South Park. (Or was it Carmela consulting his Movie Guide on an episode of The Sopranos?) He holds court at Follow him on Twitter and Facebook; you can also listen to him on his weekly podcast: Maltin on Movies. — [Artwork by Drew Friedman]


  1. Nat Segaloff says:

    Anyone who has even seen a nitrate print properly projected will become an instant partisan. There is simply no describing the experience — it’s like the difference between mono and stereo. I was fortunate in my first nitrate screening being a private (and probably illegal) showing of “The Third Man.” Talk about starting at the top..

  2. Tom says:


  3. Philip Krikau says:

    Add to that list the Stanford Theatre in Palo Alto, CA. where they’ve never stopped showing 35mm

  4. Robert L. Bradley says:

    Another topic that should be covered is focusing. Too many times I’ve seen a movie projected out of focus, and when I report it, they usually say that no one else has complained, and it stays out of focus.

  5. Ken from Down under says:

    Wonderful news. Being a film buff my first job out of school was a projectionist. These days a cinema projector is not much more than what you can get at home and run by kids who wouldn’t know what a change over “dot” was if they saw it

  6. Ray Faiola says:

    Keeping film alive, especially in revival and specialty houses, is imperative. Not only for screening rare and otherwise unavailable features, but so that theaters can augment their programs with short subjects. Otherwise, theaters will be left with Stooges and Looney Tunes as virtually their only available ancillary program material.

  7. John Gilbert says:

    Film is not dead at my house. I have 4 screening rooms in my home and a backyard drive-in, all 35 mm. My wife says that if I bring any more film equipment home, she’s going to leave me. I’m going to miss her!

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