Niagara Gazette

December 21, 2013

Projecting the future for the Riviera Theatre

By Michael Regan
Niagara Gazette

Niagara Gazette — NORTH TONAWANDA — It’s crunch time for the Riviera Theatre and Performing Arts Center, as organizers there search out additional funding to digitize its projectors, with a mandate imposed by the film industry forcing the non-profit to make the change in the next several months.

The announcement comes following a $42,000 grant obtained last week through the New York State Council on the Arts, which still leaves the theater with a $40,000 shortage for the purchase of the projector and related updates.

Gary Rouleau, director of development, said the Riviera Theatre has used 35mm film for decades, including during a recent surge in movies shown over the last several years. And while the move to digital film will ultimately improve quality and possibly expand the Riviera’s ability to show updated movies, it has put the non-profit in a pinch.

“We have been notified by the major film companies that in 2014 movies will no longer be made on 35mm film,” he said. “That means that any theater that has not converted to a new, industry-mandated digital projection system will be unable to show movies.”

Rouleau noted the popularity of movies catering to families during various film series largely held during the summer months has expanded to about 40 a year, a move that has tapped into the theater’s roots and helped revive interest. He said 2013 was its busiest series yet.

Jim Pritchard, the theater’s technical and facilities director, said when the Riviera Theatre opened in 1926 its lone form of entertainment was through vaudeville and silent films accompanied by the famed Wurlitzer organ.

But through the so-called Digital Cinema Initiatives, first launched in 2002 by the industry’s top studios, like Disney, Universal and Warner Bros., the theater has no choice but to update its equipment.

Rouleau said it has put small theaters like the Riviera in a bind as those who run them seek to raise the money to move toward a digital future.

“We’re a dying breed,” he said.

And while the group has expanded its offerings to live performances in recent years and continues to undergo a major expansion, the bread and butter of its operation still often lies with movie screenings.

Pritchard said the theater will also lose an artistic side through the process, often relying on paid and volunteer projectionists who know how to run the decades-old technology of 35 mm projectors. The theater will still hold on to those for a rare showing and as part of its historical tours, but for now the onus will be put on modernization.

Rouleau added the funding push is already under way with signs placed in the theater’s lobby seeking donations from patrons and about $2,000 drawn from the business community. But if the theater is to meet the industry deadline, it will have to do better than that.

“We’re 50 percent of the way there,” he said.

Those who would like to donate can go to, contact Rouleau at 692-2413, ext. 410 or make checks payable to Riviera Theatre, 67 Webster St., North Tonawanda, NY 14120.



Contact reporter Michael Regan at 693-1000, ext. 4115.