Film on film

35mm is alive and well at IFS

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In case you’ve had your head under a rock, or simply don’t care how movies are presented, then here is a very brief recap. In the past decade, theaters nationwide have swapped their 35mm reel-to-reel projectors for digital cinema projectors. Promising a clearer image and a crisper sound, digital cinema projectors took advantage of the multitude of movies being shot with digital cameras and edited on computers, making digital projection the inevitable conclusion. The studios threw their weight behind the transition because movies could be downloaded or streamed directly to the theaters instead of physically distributing bulky reels. The transition didn’t take long, but it was costly and many rural, single-screen theaters found themselves scrambling to update their equipment so as not to be cut out of the equation. Out the door went reel-to-reel projectors, the old movie houses and in many cases, the films themselves.

Now, digital cinema projectors have almost snuffed out film completely. Almost. Many film festivals around the globe boast 35mm screenings and if you keep your eyes peeled, you can spot a few theaters around town that hung on to their old projectors. The University of Colorado Boulder has one and International Film Series (IFS) programmer, Pablo Kjølseth, makes good use of it every Thursday night.

Boulder Weekly had a chance to speak with a beaming Kjølseth as he drove back from the Telluride Film Festival, a festival known for it’s dedication to screening 35mm and repertory picks.

“I saw seven titles that were actually on 35mm,” Kjølseth says. “That makes Telluride different. They actually celebrate the legacy of what cinema has to offer. Not just what’s coming around the corner and will be at some theaters near you, but a lot of really obscure, cool titles from all over the world.”

Kjølseth models IFS after Telluride and “obscure” is a perfect word to describe forgotten classics like My Name is Julia Ross, a 1945 noir from director Joseph Lewis (Oct. 23) and On Approval, a 1944 English comedy from director Terence Young (Nov. 6).

Heading east, Kjølseth programs two from South Korea: Oldboy from Park Chan-wook and The Host from Bong Joon-ho (Oct. 2 and Oct. 3 respectively). Both movies are presented courtesy of CU’s Center for Asian Studies and, as an added bonus, both screenings are free.

The transition from 35mm to digital hasn’t been altogether smooth, and obtaining prints is not easy or cheap. However, Kjølseth remains optimistic.

“Now that there are fewer people who have kept their reel-to-reel projectors, the community of exhibitors … have become a lot tighter and more close-knit,” Kjølseth explains. “We share our resources a lot better than we ever have.”

Sure, you can stream some of these movies online or watch the Blu-ray in the comfort of your own home, but that’s not the point. How a movie is presented can be just as important as the movie being presented. Paintings look better hanging on a gallery wall and movies deserve to be projected in darkened auditoriums. There is a tactile quality when you watch a movie on 35mm and any moviegoer worth their salt seeks out 35mm screenings with the same hunger they have for foreign films, silents, and 1:33:1 aspect ratios.

“I’m already being labeled the ‘Hey you kids, get off my lawn’ guy,” Kjølseth says. “But as long as I can, I will keep playing 35mm so that anyone who wants to can come and check out the difference with their own eyes.”

Thanks to Kjølseth and IFS, the flicker of the image and the purr of the projector can be seen and heard every Thursday night in the basement of the Visual Arts Complex. For a complete line-up, visit their website at 


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