Veteran projectionist still threading film at mini theater
In 1940, Franklin Delano Roosevelt was in the White House and the Nazis were goose-stepping through Europe.
In North Adams, Mass., 9-year-old Jerry Aratare was sitting in the dark in one of those big old movie theaters with plush seats and a mile-long candy counter in the lobby.
It was his first time at the movies, and the film was “Rebecca,” an Alfred Hitchcock thriller starring Laurence Olivier and Joan Fontaine.
The movie, which won the Oscar for Best Picture, made a big impression on that North Adams boy.
By the time he was 17, Aratare was running a projector at a theater in St. Albans, Vt.
In 1958, he moved to Glens Falls, where he was a projectionist at The Rialto and The Paramount, theaters that were torn down years ago.
Aratare is now 83 years old, and he has been in the movie business for 60 years. He has worked as a manager or projectionist for Hoyts and Regal cinemas, and has operated more than a dozen small independent theaters in Vermont, New Hampshire and Glens Falls.
Aratare’s latest venture is Cinematheque Theatre, a 60-seat mini movie house that shows first-run movies in South Glens Falls, nearly next door to Massie’s, a popular Italian restaurant, and walking distance from the bridge that crosses the Hudson River into downtown Glens Falls.
In the storefront window, a big yellow-and-black sign serves as a marquee. There’s a small candy counter, a cooler filled with drinks and a popcorn machine.
The air-conditioned theater, about 24 by 30 feet, has a sloping floor, five rows of cushy and authentic gold-colored movie seats and a 20-foot screen.
Aratare and his son, Adam, opened the theater last April after a major remodeling that included knocking out walls and installing bathrooms.
Cinematheque shows movies seven days a week, and is run by Aratare, his son, and one employee who helps out on weekends. Monday night is classic film night, with movies like “Oklahoma!” and “To Kill a Mockingbird.”
The first-run movies are shown on a vintage projector, a machine that will soon be obsolete.
This year, the film industry is completing a conversion from celluloid film to digital film. By the end of 2013, movie theaters across the country will have to replace their film projectors with digital projectors or close their doors.
Q: Why do you do this?
A: I just love the business and I love films. I retired 20 years ago and I'm working harder now than before.
Q: Do you run the projector for every movie?
A: Yep, either that or my son. He’s been able to do it since he was 12 years old.
Q: So there is still film out there?
A: They will keep manufacturing until we all get settled in. I belong to the North Country Regional Theater Alliance, which is a group that [State] Senator Betty Little is kind of in charge of, trying to raise money for all the theaters. You’ve got about 15 theaters in the North Country still running films. She’s trying to organize and get together some money so we can convert them over to digital.
Q: What’s going to happen at Cinematheque?
A: Our slogan is “go digital or go dark.” It’s so expensive, that’s the problem. And the regular-size projectors will not fit in here. They have a smaller version, which they just came out with for the smaller theaters, which is half the price of the bigger ones. That one is $32,000.
Q: So you’ll be going digital?
A: Yes, we're going to have to. We’ll probably go through the summer with film. And then we’ll see what happens.
Q: For the viewer, what's the difference between film and digital?
A: Technically, I don’t think the average person will notice the difference. I worked at the Wilton theater and when they converted four of the theaters to digital and the other four were still film, people didn’t know the difference.
Q: Where did your projector come from?
A: I bought that years and years ago from the Paramount Theater in Rutland, Vermont. I’ve got two of them and we only use one. We have the other one as a backup in case we have a problem.
Q: How’s business? Have you filled every seat?
A: It depends on the movie. “Argo” has been excellent. It’s going on its eighth week.
We came close to being sold out on Saturday night. We’ve had pretty close to full house a few times.
Q: Who are your customers?
A: They are all kinds of people. Seniors. Teenagers. They are discovering us and they like it and they keep coming back.
Q: The most popular movie?
A: “Rocky Horror.” That was a sold-out night both Friday and Saturday. The last night we had people on the floor interacting with the movie and they also brought the audience into it.
Q: Are you a “Rocky Horror” fan?
A: No, I wasn’t too crazy about it. Especially the mess afterwards. But a lot of the people enjoyed it, and that’s what we brought it in for. We’re going to do it again in August.
Q: How do people find out about Cinematheque?
A: Facebook and word of mouth. We’re working on a website. But most of it is word of mouth.
Q: How do you decide which movies to show?
A: I pick and choose what I want to show and what the people would like to see. Of course, right now we’re having trouble getting 35 mm film. We have to stand on line. In this area, they used to release 150 prints of a movie. Now it’s down to 10 prints per movie.
Q: Where do the films come from?
A: The films are shipped out of Ohio. They used to store them here in Albany but they closed that depot. Now we have to wait for UPS. Everybody used to go down and pick them up. It was a lot easier.
Q: What do the reels look like?
A: They are probably 15 to 20 inches round. And they are not in metal cans any more, they are in boxes. We’re playing “The Hobbit,” and that’s nine reels long. So it came in two boxes.
Q: Do you have to change the reels during the movie?
A: No, we splice them together.
Q: Have you had any breakdowns?
A: Knock on wood, we haven’t had any here. It’s a challenge. You never know when you start the movie whether it’s going to work right or not, and you have to stay there for a few minutes and make sure everything is working before you leave it. With digital, you can walk away and come back in two or three hours. Because there are no moving parts at all.
Q: If you could sit down and talk to any actor or actress, living or dead, who would it be?
A: It would be John Wayne. He’s been my favorite ever since the first time I saw him. I love everything he's done.
Q: What’s your favorite John Wayne movie?
A: “True Grit.” And he did play a good part in “McClintock,” too.
Q: On Facebook, someone wrote that “the popcorn alone is worth the trip.” What’s your secret?
A: That I’m going to keep quiet. (He laughs) According to our customers, we have the best popcorn in the area. On Saturday night, when we get swamped, we have to pop, pop, pop.
Q: What’s the most popular candy?
A: Peanut M & Ms and Raisinets. I like the Goobers myself.