Outpouring of support on Kickstarter keeps alive Balboa Theatre in San Francisco

The historic Balboa Theatre in the Richmond district has been spared the dark fate of many neighborhood cinemas in The City thanks to an outpouring of donations to upgrade at least one of its 35mm print projectors to digital, the Hollywood standard.

Just a month into the theater's fundraising campaign, some 830 backers had contributed more than $75,000 as of Sunday afternoon — enough to make the pricey conversion in the bigger of the movie house's two auditoriums. And with the campaign on Kickstarter continuing through the end of the month, theater owners hope funds also will come through for the second projector.

“We expected that there would be donations initially and that there would be a lull period, but the lull period never happened,” said Adam Bergeron, who owns the theater with his wife. “A bunch of neighborhood friends of the theater is what it really amounted to, and it was humbling.”

The first auditorium will close for a week and reopen Nov. 8 with a digital projector.

Technically, Balboa Theatre has not been in jeopardy of closing like many before it because the San Francisco Neighborhood Theater Foundation signed a lease to keep it open through 2024. But landing popular, big-budget movies has been tough since Hollywood studios are going digital and Twentieth Century Fox announced it will stop distributing 35mm film in 2014.

“It's already hard for us to get movies we want to show,” said Balboa Theatre general manager Joel Goulet. “Because they don't produce enough 35mm print to let us have one and because we're kind of small potatoes.”

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