Monday, November 21, 2016


The Egyptian Theater’s nitrate retrofit debuted the evening of November 7, 2016, making it possible for the theater to show every film format possible, from 35mm to 70mm to digital. The extensive renovation included fireproofing and installation of metal fire shutters, to safely allow nitrate projection.

Rick Nicita, Chairman of the American Cinematheque, introduced the proceedings and thanked the Cinematheque's partners who contributed to the projection booth's retrofitting, including the Film Foundation, the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, TCM, and the Academy Film Archive. Nicita also expressed thanks to Warner Brothers and the Museum of Modern Art for allowing this screening of Casablanca to take place. "A state-of-the-art digital projector sits side-by-side with our 35mm/70mm machines - representing the rich history of cinema, as well as the future of the art form," he added. 

The President of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, Lorenzo Soria, was on hand to explain the group’s involvement in the project and their commitment to film history. The Hollywood Foreign Press Association has collaborated with the Film Foundation for 20 years on many restorations, including King Kong, Death of a Salesman, The River, and The Red Shoes, to name a few. When the Film Foundation approached the Hollywood Foreign Press Association regarding the retrofitting, they enthusiastically agreed to help make the project a reality. Soria said the endeavor reflects the organization's belief that whenever possible, great movies should be presented the way they were meant to be experienced: on film and on the big screen.

Soria then introduced director Alexander Payne, a longtime advocate of film preservation, a friend to the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, and a board member of the Film Foundation. Payne was instrumental in making this venture possible, as a few years ago he began strongly advocating that nitrate should be screened. For Payne, the magic of film is in the projection, and he believes that we are perhaps the last generation that will be able to see these prints, so we should be playing and watching them. Luckily, his colleagues at the Film Foundation ran with the idea.

Lorenzo Soria, Alexander Payne, and Rick Nicita
As for Casablanca itself, Payne didn’t need to say much, as most of the audience members had probably seen it a few times, though perhaps never on the big screen. When the Film Foundation and Payne were discussing which movie would be best to inaugurate this nitrate screening series, Payne said he knew that the Museum of Modern Art had a great nitrate print of Casablanca. Payne thought it would be a fitting way to kick off this new and exciting series, and he was definitely right!

From a technical standpoint, here are a few details from the American Cinematheque’s projectionist Leo Enticknap, about the equipment and retrofitting of the booth, that the public didn’t get to see on Monday, November 7, when the first nitrate print passed through the projectors after an 

- The print was struck in 1947, according to the edge codes, and was in remarkably good condition considering its nearly 70 years of age.

- The Egyptian’s 35/70mm Norelco projectors (made in the mid-1960s, and therefore about half a century old themselves!) were extensively refurbished. This work included equipping them with a fire-resistant, fully enclosed film path, and installing a computerized control system that will seal the entire booth if accidental ignition occurs. The audio system has been equipped with custom-built components designed specifically to make older optical tracks sound as good as they possibly can. The Egyptian’s projectionists have nearly two centuries of film presentation experience between them, including with nitrate, and one is also a fully qualified film archivist. In addition, the projectionists have undergone extensive safety training in the requirements for the handling and presentation of nitrate prints mandated by the newly revised NFPA 40 regulations.