You couldn't help but notice how well-suited one of Tuesday's feature presentations at Sidney's Star Cinema - Sparkle, the musical drama about the struggles of aspiring stars - was when you consider the theatre's name and its own challenges.
While Sparkle is best known as Whitney Houston's last movie, it was the title of another singer's megahit - Gloria Gaynor's I Will Survive - that sprang to mind at the quaint community theatre fighting for its life as digital doomsday approaches.
Loyal patrons, volunteers, politicians, businesses and service clubs have rallied to save Sandy Oliver's beloved two-screen movie house from extinction since Hollywood confirmed it would stop releasing 35-millimetre prints by the end of next year.
The industry's switch to digital has been in the works for a decade, with Cineplex, Empire Theatres and Cinecenta having made the costly conversion. Now it's crunch time for the mom-and-pop operations.
While the benefits of digital projection are obvious - sharper picture quality and sound, compact cartridges cheaper to produce and distribute and programming flexibility - the switch is putting many small-town theatres on life support.
They lack the profit margins to be able to afford new digital projectors that can cost upwards of $80,000.
The Star, averaging 3,000 patrons monthly, is more than just another endangered cinema. It's a cultural hub in Sidney, a social gathering place with a sizable audience of seniors that's now attracting younger fans.
"They're the ones who eat the most popcorn," Oliver jokes.
Aside from its homey feel, the theatre is known for eclectic programming inspired by customer feedback; the personal touch, as in how Oliver, manager Lindsay Pomper and their paid staff and volunteer ticket-takers greet customers; pre-show introductions and as a venue for fundraising and live events like a Marlene Dietrich tribute Oct. 18.
It's also where regulars put their money where their mouths are. Recent hits requested include The Intouchables and what Pomper calls "our highest-grossing movie ever" - The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.
It's no wonder there's been such grassroots enthusiasm for a fundraising campaign Oliver had to launch May 18, echoing the actions of other imperilled small-town theatres such as Powell River's historic Patricia Theatre. The Sidney twin cinema's goal is $200,000, to cover the cost of two digital projectors, including one purchased last year when the theatre's aging 35mm workhorse broke down, and to upgrade 30-year-old seats inherited from the old Odeon.
"The Star is almost an institution," said Ken Pod-more, the Sidney councillor and town crier.
"Where else can you go where they go down front and introduce the films to you? It's a special little place."
Podmore organized A Starry Afternoon of Music, a fundraiser that drew 400 people to Sidney's Beacon Park. The Bayside Big Band, The Islanders and others donated talent, and Oliver brought her popcorn machine. About $4,700 was raised.
Another volunteer staged an auction that raised $2,200, and "one young man took us from $45,000 to $65,000," Oliver said - the regular from Florida enlisted two Albertan donors to write $10,000 cheques.
Others held garage sales and one patron's daughter saved her allowance to buy one of the 275 theatre seats that were available for purchase in memory of Star fans or other loved ones, with names inscribed.
For the same price - $150, or $250 for a business - you can buy a piece of a projector and get your name on a plaque.
There are also $500 Gold Star and $1,000 Star Director sponsorships. For $90, you can become an official Star supporter.
Having to raise funds to stay afloat because of technology has been a bitter pill to swallow, especially during a tough chapter in Oliver's life. Her sister Carolyn Lewis, who cheerfully greeted customers since they opened the Third Street theatre in a former bingo hall with original partners Judy Gwynn-Williams and Marlene Holt, died in May after a battle with cancer.
Oliver also had to take several years off to care for her late husband, Ken, when he was diagnosed with a brain tumour.
"We've been forced to jump in at the research and development stage," she laments. "There's nothing rational about it."
Still, she's elated $105,000 has been raised so far. The milestone is marked on a large image of a film strip in the theatre's funky star-themed lobby, where you'll also encounter CineMutt, Lewis's stuffed dog lying on a blue chaise lounge; mice figurines she collected; a donation jar; and an autumnal shrine to Lewis.
"Some of the funds reflect love and support for my sister," acknowledges Oliver, who formerly managed Saltspring Island's community theatre. "Cinema was her life."
Oliver can barely contain her gratitude as she greets customers.
"We have such a sweet community," she says. "The moral support and love they have for this theatre is astounding."
Volunteer Ken Rothe, 70, personified that as he took tickets.
"I don't want to lose this cinema," he said. "We're so lucky to have it."
For Bill and Sheena Heuman, a middle-aged Central Saanich couple, it's a tradition.
"Once a week, every Tuesday, we're here, sitting in the front row. It's our date night," Bill said.
Other regulars include Renee Heatherington and Bob Thompson.
"It's an integral part of this community, very warm and welcoming," Bob said.
"We want to make sure the lights stay on."
It's such feedback that has inspired the Save Star Cinema campaign, said Oliver.
"It's a lovely little business," she said. "You get to welcome people into a movie and share this pleasure they have."
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