SLO's Palm Theatre is switching from 35 mm film to digital

slinn@thetribunenews.comMay 29, 2013 

Jim Dee owns the Palm Theatre in San Luis Obispo.


Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated how long the Palm Theatre has been in business; it opened 25 years ago. Also, the cost of a reliable used film projector is $1,500, not $15,000.

After 25 years, the Palm Theatre in San Luis Obispo is bidding farewell to 35 mm film.

“If you want to stay in this business, you have to convert to digital,” said Jim Dee, who owns the arthouse movie theater. “There’s no choice in the matter.”

Considered the industry standard for more than a century, 35 mm film projectors have all but vanished from movie theaters in recent years — replaced by their digital counterparts.

Now, rather than heavy film canisters, most movies arrive at multiplexes in hard drives roughly the size of a paperback book, Dee said.

According to Dee, the shift came about two years ago when what is now 21st Century Fox became the first major Hollywood studio to officially notify exhibitors that it would distribute all its films domestically in a digital format instead of photochemical film prints.

Since then, other studios have made the switch, prompting theater owners nationwide to trade their trusty film projectors for smaller, quieter and more expensive digital models.

Dee installed the first of three Barco digital projectors in the Palm’s largest screening room in March 2012, and installed another one in Screen 2 in October. Next week, Screen 3 will get its own digital projector.

Each digital cinema package, or, DCP, costs about $70,000, Dee said, compared to $1,500 for a reliable used film projector.

Before the Palm says goodbye to its old projector, however, the theater will screen one final 35 mm film — 1991’s “Postmen in the Mountains.” The Chinese drama, which will be screened in Mandarin with English subtitles, follows a retiring mailman who hands over his route to his son.

“Postmen in the Mountains” will screen at 4:15 p.m. Friday, Saturday and Sunday at the Palm Theatre, 817 Palm St. in San Luis Obispo. Tickets are $6.

For more information, call 541-5161 or visit

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