BELLINGHAM - The Pickford Film Center has raised the $225,000 it needed to buy new digital equipment to play movies.
"I'm overwhelmed by the support of this community," said Alice Clark, the film center's executive director. "We're feeling humbled and grateful. This community responds to what we bring to Bellingham."
The Pickford launched the fundraising campaign Sept. 27 because Hollywood is phasing out 35 mm film this year and focusing on one format.
All theaters across the country must have digital cinema packages to play movies from the studios, including first-run art films like "Moonrise Kingdom" or "The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel," or they will have to shut down, Pickford reps have said.
A digital cinema package is a high-resolution digital projector and a digital server that accepts studio-secured hard drives.
The Pickford is buying the equipment for each of its three screens, including its Limelight Cinema on Cornwall Avenue, at a cost of $75,000 each.
The Pickford will install the equipment early this year.
Clark said 99 percent of donations came from the community, including from an anonymous donor who offered a matching challenge.
The donor first indicated he would match dollar for dollar up to $32,500 - for a total of $65,000.
With that goal reached by mid-December, the donor agreed to extend the challenge through December - and that allowed the Pickford to raise the needed $225,000.
"It kind of all came together with the anonymous donor. I think that's the key to this," Clark said.
Once people understood their donations would be matched, it kind of "set everything on fire," she added.
The shift to digital wasn't a surprise per se, given that the seven major motion picture studios formed the Digital Cinema Initiatives in 2002 to develop standardized technical specifications.
What they also developed was a way to pay for the costly equipment that would be needed - using a formula that benefited the large, commercial theater chains but excluded independent art houses, according to the Pickford. (For the film industry, distributing movies digitally is less expensive than film.)
At first, the shift to a digital cinema package was voluntary - and the conversion didn't have a specific timeline.
Before they received letters in December 2011 that warned of the 35 mm cutoff, the Pickford and other small theaters thought film would be around for at least another three years.