Friday, May 22, 2015

The Wilma Theatre's former film projectionist mourns the end of an era

Posted By on Fri, May 22, 2015 at 11:56 AM

click to enlarge Greg Nowak, aka "The Octopus," stands in front of the Wilma Theatre, - PHOTO COURTESY OF RALE SIDEBOTTOM
  • Photo courtesy of Rale Sidebottom
  • Greg Nowak, aka "The Octopus," stands in front of the Wilma Theatre,

It’s over. Those were the first words I heard coming into my job as a projectionist at the Minor Theater in Arcata, California in 1994. I had been in town a year, and Humboldt County was currently having its forests clear-cut by corporations, all the mills were slowly grinding to a halt, things were bleak. I was lucky to get a job at all, and the words were enough to make me nervous for the next five years. The owner of the theater was prescient enough to know that, in fact, cinema as we knew it was dying. Digital projection will kill us, he said. Markets are rapidly changing into a soiled bucket of uniformity, he said. And we’re all gonna be out of a job by 2000, he said. He was right, for the most part.

Which is why, when I came to the Wilma Theater as a projectionist in 2012, I was shocked. Shocked to find that, not only could I still get a job projecting 35mm film in a movie theater, but in Montana? Seven nights a week? First run? It was very surreal. It was the second of what needed to be three jobs for me to live in one of the most beautiful places left in America. You make it happen. I’m honored by the Gods of storytelling to have been there for the final days of 90-plus years of Montana cinema history.

One thing you grow to love working at movie theaters are the regulars. Not just the film critics and the cute old couples, but the consistent film buffs. They are often more interesting than the stock players up on the screen. Alas, those audiences have dwindled in recent years. Big budget event-type films have shuttered smaller houses, and we now find ourselves racing to see the latest superhero jerk-off so we can be pummeled and slammed for two hours (no more! no less!) and then go home and forget about it until the next one comes out, leaving us ultimately empty and dissatisfied. But isn’t this the plan? Isn’t this just how everything is supposed to work now? From event to event, racing around for the next big treat, texting about it furiously, and then, somehow—we forget. We lose sight of why we were even drawn to theaters in the first place.

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