Equally noteworthy are some changes to the festival that have nothing to do with whos on stage or whats on screen. This year, the traditionally low-key and funky festival offers a hotel package for out-of-town guests, a VIP pass option and even gift bags for passholders.
In the past, the Olympia Film Festival hasnt had the wide reach that it could have had, said festival director Lisa Hurwitz of Olympia. We are trying to turn this into more of a commercial event, more of a lucrative event.
Raising the profile of this event is so essential to the future of the Olympia Film Society.
The reason: Changes in the movie business are bringing new challenges to independent and art-house theaters.
The larger movie-production companies have moved toward distributing films digitally as a cheaper option, and the society recently got a letter from Universal Pictures stating that after 2013, its new films will no longer be available on 35-millimeter film.
Were all witness to a rapidly changing world in which digital technology and new habits around viewing and exhibiting media are in violent transition, said Haynes of Portland, the special guest for Friday nights Opening Night festivities. Theatrical venues have no choice but to transition into digital projection.
Already, chain theaters all have the digital systems, said Joaquin de la Puente, the film societys cinema technician and the man who trains the volunteer projectionists. He said 85 percent of theaters are showing digital movies.
Were the only place in Thurston County where you can see 35-millimeter film, he said.
That gives the film society an important niche. It has an archival quality two-projector system, which leads to more opportunities to show historic and rare films.
Tonights secret screening is one example. Were showing the one existing 35-millimeter print of the film, Hurwitz said. The film itself is a mystery, but Haynes will be in attendance. Haynes has two films that earned Oscar nominations, Far From Heaven and Im Not There, and his 1998 film Velvet Goldmine about glam rock earned the Best Artistic Contribution award at the Cannes Film Festival that year.
While the society will continue to show independent and older films in 35 millimeter, the change in technology means raising and spending about $80,000 to buy a system that can show digital films.
If Olympia Film Society wants to stay in the business of showing new movies, we have to do it, said de la Puente, who acts as a cinema technician and projectionist for festivals internationally, in addition to his film society job. That is probably the thing that will keep us in business.
That doesnt mean the societys archival quality two-projector system for 35-millimeter films will sit unused, he said. Well be like a museum to cinema as well as showing new cinema.
And the intention is to keep the quality the same.
Todays digital systems show films at about one-quarter of the resolution of 35-millimeter film, de la Puente said, but new systems are on the way that will allow digital films to be screened at a quality that matches that of the 35mm, and that is what the film society intends to purchase.
Were going in this direction, and well do it with the same standards that we do our 35-millimeter presentations, he said.
All that, of course, will take support and money. And thats what prompted the changes to the festival, including the addition of gift bags and Lifetime Achievement Awards, which this year honor Willard and director Philip Kauffman.
It sounds surprising to those familiar with the old days of the festival. Haynes, for one, has fond memories of his first time at the festival, back in 2001, when he came with a friend to watch another directors film.
It already feels like another era, but I loved my first taste of Olympia and the festival, its great old bars and the crazy kids who assembled for the all-night marathon at the State Theater, he said in an email interview.
Of the new attempt to attract more big-name guests and draw more attention to Olympia, festival director Hurwitz said, It might feel a little bit weird for a while until we catch up.
This is a trial, she added. Weve never done this before.
In the future, it would be great for the Olympia Film Festival to be a destination festival.