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When bytes conquered the film world: SIFF-Renton goes digital
Filmgoers at the Seattle International Film Festival in Renton will see just how the digital age has taken over the film age.
Think bytes vs. celluloid.
Monday, for the third time, Miles McRae sat in the cramped projection room at the IKEA Performing Arts Center at Renton High School, preparing the equipment that will show the 19 films screening at this year’s festival in Renton through Wednesday.
Gone are the days when he lugged around about 600 pounds of equipment, including a 35 millimeter projector that has been the movie-industry standard for decades. It came with the movies on reels of film.
Now, the industry standard is DCP or Digital Cinema Package. The movies are delivered to theaters as digital files, which are “ingested” or copied onto a server and then shown on a digital projector.
“That is how the content is being delivered to the majority of theaters in the United States today,” said McRae, who is the owner of Seattle-based McRae Theater Equipment, Inc.
The major theater chains have already made the conversion to what is called a D-cinema System, he said; for independent movie houses, the owners “are coming to grips” with the cost of converting a screen to digital for $50,000 to $60,000, he said.
SIFF rents projection equipment from McRae for the festival. Last year, Renton was the last SIFF venue to show all the films on a 35 millimeter projector.
The debate continues whether digital presentation is superior to 35 millimeter film presentation or vice versa.
“In reality the presentation from the digital system is going to be of higher quality due to the fact there is no mechanical jitter or weave in this system,” McRae said.
Sound quality in digital cinema should be better than film because the sound is recorded on its own track, rather than printed onto the film’s track, he said.
With film, a projectionist sat in the projection booth, ensuring “the presentation was the best that it could be,” he said.
Now an operator sits at a keyboard; to start a film, he or she just hits play. The server checks all the “content devices” to ensure everything is “valid,” or working properly. Then the film begins.
The McRae family roots go deep into Renton. Miles McRae’s uncle and aunt, Robert and Elia McRae, owned the Roxy and Renton theaters on South Third Street for many years.
Now, along with their son David, they own the Ark Lodge Cinemas on Rainier Avenue South in south Seattle.
The Roxy’s sign lights up the interior of the Renton History Museum.
Tickets for the Seattle International Film Festival are available online at siff.net. Tickets are available at the IPAC box office, which opens about 30 minutes before the first screening of the day. IPAC is at Renton High School, 400 S. Second St., Renton.