The Last Projectionist



A Victoria 5 from Cinemeccanica (patented 1975) at the Hampstead Everyman Cinema, north London.

It is cinema’s most popular, versatile and reliable film projector.


 35mm projectors are operated in a process hardly changed over the last 100 years.

The projectionist prepares the spools of films which are fed over the projector’s rollers, then through the sprockets inside, before finally reaching the lens at a rate of 24 frames per/sec.

As soundtracks move faster than images through the projector, they are printed on the film at a rate of 20 frames per/sec.


The lens turret rotates as required to project any one of its three available screen sizes.


As of 2008, film vs. digital cinema projections for worldwide releases were estimated at about 70/30 in favour of film.

That year demand for celluloid peaked with the world using 13 billion feet of film.

By 2012, as little as four billion feet were used.

Film vs. digital ratios are now estimated to be about 70/30 in favour of digital.


Falling costs in digital media, coupled with the high price and storage of film reels, has fuelled the rapid changeover from film to digital.

By 2015, film is predicted to be no longer in use commercially.


The capability and arguable near flawlessness of digital cinema can be easily evidenced – especially in comparison with a high maintenance, less clean and more expensive predecessor like film.

That film has never been perfect brings to mind the words of genius lunatic and oft-time photographer, Miroslav Tichý, who said: “A mistake, that’s what makes the poetry.”

And so, cinema’s 120-year-old love affair with film is shortly coming to a close. Many don’t care, and more, perhaps, don’t notice.

The figures for the annual admissions to UK cinemas certainly shows just how little bearing the switch to digital is having on attendances (and, on another note, just how little impact piracy appears to be having).

But many feel that there are recognisable effects with film that the digital process cannot presently capture – a perceived warmth, crisp realism, sparkling tangibility.

And when celluloid’s finally gone, such characteristics will be dearly missed by plenty more than just the skilled, but progressively redundant, film projectionists.

So there that is: we still love films. Though, ever increasingly, what we’re actually seeing is something else.

©Eoin O'Donnell 2008 (LCC Photojournalism Submission)

(Update 2014: This subject is covered extensively in the excellent documentary Side by Side)

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