, Salem, MA

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.”

Launched yesterday, the Kickstarter campaign raised more than $2,000 in the first few hours. As of press time last night, the total was nearly $12,500.

Van Ness spoke last week to the board of the Salem Chamber of Commerce and received a warm response.

“The board told me to do anything I can as a chamber director to help Paul be successful in this campaign,” said Rinus Oosthoek, executive director of the chamber and an organizer with Van Ness of the Salem Film Fest. “That doesn’t happen very often.”

Van Ness and his cinema are “really a major asset to the downtown and to Salem in general,” Oosthoek said.

“Save CinemaSalem” must receive $60,000 in online pledges by Jan. 14, the deadline for the fund drive. In the all-or-nothing campaign, backers are charged on their credit cards only if the funding goal is reached by the deadline.

The switch to digital projection is necessary because the major Hollywood studios are discontinuing distribution of 35 mm movies, which the industry has used for decades. Most are making the switch next year, Van Ness said.

Instead of shipping heavy boxes containing large movie reels, the studios will send the movies on secure hard drives.

The new equipment needed to make the transition to digital projection costs $210,000, most of which will be covered by subsidies paid to first-run theaters by the Hollywood studios, according to Van Ness. But to qualify, Van Ness said he must raise his $60,000 share of the costs by mid-January.

Under the Kickstarter concept, contributors qualify for gifts. For this campaign, they range from a free large popcorn for small backers to a slew of gifts, including movies on 35 mm film, for big donors.

The fund drive officially launches Saturday at 10 a.m. with a free screening of “A Christmas Story.” It continues next Saturday, Dec. 15, at the same time with a free showing of “Elf.”

Tom Dalton can be reached at

How to help

CinemaSalem is trying to raise $60,000 by Jan. 14. Pledges can be made on the Kickstarter website at