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December 5, 2012

Push on to save Salem theater

SALEM — Paul Van Ness has been giving back almost since the day he opened CinemaSalem six years ago.

He has donated more than $40,000 to mostly local nonprofits and held free public screenings for special events like President Barack Obama’s first inauguration and the final episode of the popular TV show “Lost.” He also runs weekly Monday morning movies for mothers and screaming babies, allows local organizations to show films and hold fundraisers, and serves as host for the popular Salem Film Fest.

Now, he is asking for the public’s help.

In a campaign called “Save CinemaSalem,” Van Ness is trying to raise $60,000 to purchase equipment to convert his Museum Place Mall theater to digital movie projection, a technology upgrade mandated by the Hollywood studios. Without the funds, he says the theater can’t stay open, or at least can’t continue as a first-run movie house.

“There are already a bunch of movie theaters that have gone out of business because they are not able to come up with the money to go through this transition,” Van Ness said. “If we don’t succeed in making this transition, there’s no way we can stay in business because there will be no films for us to show.”

Although his small, first-run cinema has gained a foothold in the community, Van Ness said the business does not have the funds for this large, one-time payment. Thus, he is seeking donations through Kickstarter, a website set up to raise money for creative projects and other ventures.

Using a concept called “crowd funding,” Kickstarter is a way for a large number of individuals to make donations to a business or cause. Similar campaigns have been successful at small independent community theaters around the country, Van Ness said.

“It’s an opportunity for people to vote for what kind of downtown we want, what kind of movie-going experience we’re going to have,” he said. “It’s kind of a time for people to think about what they value.”

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