HOBART | Scott Frey refers to the 71-year-old Art Theater he and his brother bought six years ago as a "hidden gem."
It's an assessment with which independent film producer Rich Angell would agree.
"Not only do we want to keep independent theaters like this alive; we want to keep independent voices alive," Angell said.
To that end, Angell and fellow film producer John Maggio have created a national campaign called Keep Indie Visible to save landmark art house theaters like the Art Theater in downtown Hobart.
"We have set a goal of saving 50 art house theaters across the country, and the Hobart theater was one of the theaters we partnered with," Angell said.
The Art is the only theater in Indiana selected for the honor.
Donations from the campaign will be distributed to the 50 selected theaters across the country. The only requirement is that the selected theaters agree to show five to six independent films a year, Frey said.
The Art Theater was picked to represent Indiana for a variety of reasons, Angell said, including its historical significance, the market density of its location and the passion displayed by its owners at keeping it open.
"The Art Theater was selected to represent Indiana in the kickoff of the campaign," Angell said.
The threat to independent theaters across the country is real: By the end of 2013, Hollywood only will distribute movies in specific digital formats, requiring specific digital projectors, Angell said.
Cost of the new digital systems is in the $65,000-to-$100,000 range, Angell said.
"Without help, theaters like the Art Theater face the real threat of having to shut down," Angell said.
The threat of independent theaters closing down also affects independent filmmakers because there will be no place to go, he said.
"By coming together, independent theaters and filmmakers — with the help of film fans across the country — can turn this scenario around," Angell added.
Frey said he and his brother, Dr. William Frey, bought the Art Theater six years ago from Ed Prusiecki with the goal of keeping the downtown theater alive.
The Art Theater, 230 Main St., was built by the Prusiecki family in 1941 and retains all of the original construction, including art deco designs and murals, Frey said.
"The name, Art, was derived from the last three letters of Hobart," Frey said.
Frey owns the local Dairy Queen and his brother is a local eye doctor, so neither man is dependent on income derived from the theater, he said.
"It's like the culture of the community, and we want it to be intact and to be a vibrant part of the community. ... We're trying to save a part of Hobart's history and keep the doors open," Frey said.
Retaining the flavor and history of Crown Point's downtown was also the reason his family bought the Crown Theater four years ago and have continued to make improvements, Chris Lozanovski said.
"We enjoy owning the theater and keeping it alive," Lozanovski said.
The Crown Theater, northwest of the Old Courthouse, was a livery stable until the 1920s when the building was converted to a two-screen theater known as the Crown Palace.
Lozanovski said he and his son, Craig Lozanovski, who manages the theater, had heard about the switch next year to digital formats for new releases.
The cost to make the switch to digital projectors to show those new releases isn't something being considered by the family at this time.
"We'll have to keep playing the old movies if we can still lease them. The big-box movie theaters can play the new ones," Lozanovski said.
Nancy Klockow, co-owner of the Ritz Cinema in downtown Rensselaer, said she and her husband, Gordon, converted to digital about a year ago.
"We revamped everything, including a new sound system and projector. We didn't realize how bad our system was," Klockow said.
The Ritz Cinema, which used to be called the Palace Theater, was built in 1928 and still has the original vaudeville stage and orchestra pit.
For more information about Keep Indie Visible, visit www.KeepIndieVisible.com.