There were two news stories from Norway last week. One was so shocking that it completely overwhelmed everything else coming out of the country. But that other story will have long-term consequences for the film industry. Screen International reported on 22 July that Norway’s move to complete digitisation of film distribution and exhibition had been completed in just over a year. From now on the Hollywood studios and major European distributors will only distribute 2K DCI compliant prints in Norway. 35mm is dead as a commercial medium. (Also worth noting – 80% of Norway’s screens are 3D capable.)
The significance of this announcement has to be looked at in terms of Norway’s special conditions. There are only 420 screens in the country and there is a history of municipal ownership of cinemas which alongside heavy government subsidies has made the transition to digital more straightforward than in other larger territories with more complex infrastructure. But the first stone has been taken from the dam. The Netherlands will be next – a larger population with more screens (690) and possibly more small film theatres. The UK multiplexes will be all digital by 2013 leaving major question marks over the smaller independents.
I assume that Norway will still have a handful of screens with 35mm projection facilities so that archive prints will be screenable? The other important question is how small independent cinemas outside Norway will find the necessary investment to acquire 2K projectors – and manage to pay the VPFs (virtual print fees) for digital prints for the first few years to cover the costs of conversion. Norway is a rich country. Elsewhere digital conversion is arriving inconveniently during a severe economic recession in Europe and North America. If you are a film fan committed to diversity in film exhibition, now is the time to start supporting your local independent cinema in any way that you can.