Paul Wilson: Tivoli Fights for Life in Digital Age

TivoliI had the chance today to spend some time with Tivoli Theater head dude and thirty year veteran of the film industry, Jerry Harrington

And what a great conversation it was. This is a man who clearly loves what he does and he’s coming to find out how much others love and appreciate that too.

For those of you not familiar, Tivoli is Kansas City’s oldest indie film theater, screening a blend of community cinema, indies, classics, and foreign films as well as local festivals, film classes, performing arts broadcasts, and other special screenings.

The Tivoli began as a 104-seat movie house over 30 years ago.

In 1992, the Tivoli relocated to a three screen movie theatre across the street from its original location.  Since that time they’ve kept their 35mm projectors humming, but that era is quickly coming to a close.

The Tivoli, like everyone else, is required to convert to digital projection systems by the end of December if they are to stay in business showing current films. By the end of this year, movies will no longer be distributed on 35 mm film. Which means any theater that hasn’t converted to the new, industry-mandated digital projection system will be out of biz.

Save TivoliMaking that change requires a huge amount of cash. Or at least, huge by the standards of a small operation like the Tivoli. The total cost for making this conversion for the Tivoli’s three screens is an overwhelming $210,000.

Harrington says since they are more of a specialty “community center” they can’t qualify for loans of that size. So he’s facing a very difficult predicament.

“I’ve been in this business for 30 years and I’ve never had to say, hey, I need some help here,” Harrington says.

But today, he finds himself needing a little help from his friends.

So what’s Harrington done? He’s turned to Kickstarter in an effort to raise the cash he needs. “We chose Kickstarter to fund this project because the funds are only released if the target goal is achieved, it’s all or nothing, which is the position the theatre is in right now.

“The money raised by this digital conversion project is not about our operating expenses or other upgrades. Any funds pledged over the target amount will be put directly into improving the theater for the public.”

Over and over again in our conversation Jerry kept repeating different versions of, “Amazing.”

“It’s just been amazing,” he says. “You do this all your life, you take it for granted and you just don’t notice that anyone really notices.”

I loved that phrase and wrote it down. How many times do we face that in our daily lives?

No matter what the challenges, so many times we think we’re alone when we’re really not. We just don’t notice… that anyone notices.

However when Harrington started the Kickstarter project, he found that out a lot of people had noticed.

As of today, he’s got 546 backers and has raised $66,000 with 34 days to go.

“It started off big, and then tapered off some,” Harrington says.

But while he has that effort going, people also have come to the theatre off the street to donate funds to the conversion as well.

He has “Save the Tivoli” t-shirts and buttons for sale as well.

Again and again Harrington repeated, “Amazing, this has all just been incredible.”

He’s taken his job for granted – like most of us do – thinking it’s just what we do. For 30 years Harrington’s just gone to his place of business and showed some movies, nothing more, nothing less. However in the last few days, he’s come to find out others appreciate the venue and what he does more than he ever imagined. People come and tell him they are grateful for his theater and what he does to bring them the films he does.

The Tivoli has already installed one entire projection system and has prepared the other two auditoriums for a quick installation. Jerry knows the old systems well, how to keep a projector running, what’s required to keep it in tune and rolling the film, but this upgrade comes with new and different learning curves.

“It’s all new, I have software updates to do and component boards to change out when there’s a problem,” he says.

And if there’s something he can’t do?

“They can trouble shoot and repair my system remotely,” he says.

I’ve loved this little theater and it would be a shame to see it go. I’m going to count myself as a “backer” and if you’d like to do the same, click on the Kickstarter link and show the man some love.
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8 Responses to Paul Wilson: Tivoli Fights for Life in Digital Age

  1. CG says:

    Jerry does a wonderful job and service to KC. He brings important films we otherwise would never see first run or maybe ever. The man deserves support from the city and its people…great job Jerry.

    • paulwilsonkc says:

      And he’s just a cool dude, Craig. Here’s a mark of a guys heart; I’m in the early stages of planning a documentary with a good friend who just picked up four Emmys this year for his last documentary. I simply mentioned it as a passing comment and Jerry jumped topics from his need to MY DREAM and wanted to know all about it!
      He asked 100 questions, the kind someone in the business would ask and his parting words were, “Paul, DO THAT film! It’s a great idea; if there’s anything I can do, please, let me know!”
      This story was about him and HIS need; he seemed more interested in me and MY idea. Kind of let’s you know, at a base level, who he really is.

  2. Jeff says:

    Another very well written piece Paul. I for one certainly hope Tivoli can bridge over to digital. It is truly a KC treasure. In this day and age, I find it “amazing.”

  3. Orphan of the Road says:

    All my parents and their friends had big sets of the Depression glass dish sets. So I come from a cult of movie goers. Back when you went to the movies to see a 1940s Tom Sawyer and it was an event in the 5os.

    Even the 60s when you got to go see a blockbuster, with the big screen, great sound and an intent audience.

    The Englewood in Independence is struggling to make a comeback. Not quite a movie palace like the old Aladdin (now a fundamentalist church with the Middle East facade still looking good).

    Hope he makes it along with the others struggling to keep up with technology and give us a small bit of what a movie palace was like instead of the Hunger Games of most mulitplexes.

  4. jack p. says:

    Hey Orphan, you’re correct. Other local struggling theatres facing huge conversion costs include the theatre on the square in in Independence as well as the I-40, 4- screen Drive-In and the TWIN Drive-In Theatres. Also the NOLAND FASHION SQUARE, only remaining discount theatre left in the metro will probably have to go away when film is no longer available.
    I’m not sure whether the Fine Arts group has converted ALL of their operating screens—especially the Glenwood on south K.C.

    • Andrew says:

      I was wondering about the Fine Arts theaters, too. I like them as well. The Tivoli is my favorite, though. I’ve only lived here in KC for a little over two years now, and I was so excited when I discovered this place where I could see indie films and documentaries and sleeper hits! I’d never lived in a place with such a theater before…but now I know that’s because the Tivoli is truly one of a kind. I donated via Kickstarter, and I hope the goal is met.

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