MOUNT VERNON — The Lincoln Theatre is working its way to the digital age, as a fundraising program to buy a digital motion picture playback system already has brought in $17,000 of a $100,000 goal.

Executive Director Sue Ellen Heflin said the 86-year-old theater’s Digital Futures Initiative officially kicked off Jan. 15, with a goal of raising the necessary funds to convert its film projection system to digital by this fall.

Heflin said the theater will be reaching out to local businesses, clubs, theater members and Skagit citizens for donations.

The need for an all-digital system stems from the widespread decision by Hollywood film studios to stop production of actual 35 mm film prints of movies, expected sometime this year. Instead of being printed onto rolls of film and delivered to theaters, movies will be loaded onto hard drives and shown with high-definition digital projectors.

In an April 2012 speech, the National Association of Theater Owners President and CEO John Fithian said film studios could stop producing film by the end of 2013.

While larger theater chains could afford the high capital outlays for new projectors, audio and computer equipment, smaller one-and two-screen independent theaters across the nation have had a hard time raising the more than $50,000 per screen to accommodate the conversion.

Heflin said that cinema accounts for one-third of the theater’s operational income and half of yearly audiences. She said the $100,000 will go toward a new digital projector, a file server, wiring and sight upgrades to the audio system.

“This is not optional for the Lincoln; without the equipment upgrade, the Lincoln’s cinema program will go dark,” Heflin said in a news release.

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