A 'reel' cause: Saturday benefit builds awareness and funds to save Kennedy Theatre

2013-11-02T21:25:00Z 2013-11-02T21:54:49Z A 'reel' cause: Saturday benefit builds awareness and funds to save Kennedy TheatreBy Philip Potempa philip.potempa@nwi.com, (219) 852-4327 nwitimes.com

HAMMOND | Chris Benavidez and wife Lorie, owners of Kennedy Theatre in Hammond, hope coming attractions at their business will soon include new digital projection equipment.

The planned renovation isn't just a whim of the owners.

The pricey new technology upgrade the industry requires is forcing the Benavidezes and the owners of many other small theaters to assess whether they will remain open or have to close.

Hundreds of supporters and dedicated patrons of the Kennedy Theatre, 6735 Kennedy Ave., in Hammond attended a charity event Saturday at the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge in Hammond.

Their donations would help defray the $110,000 cost of the new technology at the more than 50-year-old, two-screen movie house.

Benavidez and his wife, who live in Cedar Lake, purchased the theater in 2007, becoming the third owners of the business since it launched as the Ace Theater. After the assassination of President John F. Kennedy in 1963, former owner Jack Hennessey and his wife, Betty, changed the name of the theater in honor of the fallen president.

When Benavidez purchased the business, he hadn't considered the traditional flickering 35-milimeter "reel to reel" films shipped from studio distributors would soon be deemed obsolete.

"To be honest, when I talked with my wife about purchasing the theater, I worried more about the competition from at-home DVD and Blu-ray technology, never realizing how quickly the movie studios would opt to want to convert movie theaters to a digital format," Benavidez said. 

"It's been for the past two years that we've been getting the serious warnings from the movie studios that by the end of 2013, they would no longer ship traditional film reels for new releases."

He said currently six large film reels, shipped in a 40-pound crate, are used to show just one standard, two-hour film with a traditional projector. He said the cost to convert his two movie screens to digital is around $110,000.

"Amazingly, that price has come down some, considering a couple years ago, the going price was $140,000," Benavidez said.

"We are extremely optimistic that we are going to raise our needed funds for this conversion. And there are also now a few other options that previously weren't available, such as leasing to own this digital equipment instead of paying for everything upfront. Our hopes are with this event and a couple others planned, we'll at least reach our goal for $40,000."

Saturday's charity event included raffles, with winning tickets drawn from large popcorn buckets, along with food, drinks and live music.

"We have to save this wonderful landmark for family entertainment," said Diane Williams, of Hobart, who was assisting with raffle ticket sales.

"My parents had their first date at the Kennedy Theatre."

Benavidez said while the large corporate-owned cinemas were quick to make the needed conversion to digital, smaller movie houses such as those that continue to be neighborhood focal points in Northwest Indiana have been the last to make the switch.

"The Art Theater in Hobart and The Hoosier Theatre in Whiting made the switch because they both had recent changes in ownership," Benavidez said.

"But our Kennedy Theatre and The Crown Theater in Crown Point have been among the final movie houses to face the change."

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