Wonderful Movie Theater Discovery in Hawaii

Monday night, while vacationing on Hawaii's big island, I happened upon a great old movie palace–still showing pictures, and still using 35mm changeover projection. I'm talking about Hilo's historic Palace Theater.

Wandering through the streets of Hilo with my family on a rainy evening, I spotted the theater and detoured to check it out. The smell of popcorn told us that it was still active. They were showing Bernie, which I had already seen and liked, but the rest of the family had not yet seen. The price was right–$7 ($6 for students and seniors over 55), so we went in.

The deep, ornate lobby felt comfortable and friendly. The popcorn smell came from a small food stand in the corner, that sold real food (including vegan chili) as well as popcorn and candy. A few tables allowed people to eat in comfort.

The theater itself was large, terraced, and also ornate. (I didn't take photos; I would have needed a better camera than my phone for that.) The proscenium was tall but not that wide; just the right shape for movies of the pre-widescreen era. Since they were showing modern, widescreen films, they didn't use the full height.

After taking seats near the front, I made my way to the back of the theater and talked a bit to the projectionist, who had been working at that theater for 40 years. He told me that they still used 35mm film, doing changeover with two projectors, and didn't have the money for digital conversion. He didn't know what the theater would do when distributors stopped making prints. The theater specializes in independent and indiewood movies (After Bernie, they'll screen Moonlight Kingdom; they also screened trailers for Take This Walz and A Cat in Paris), and he's hoping that those distributers will continue with film a bit longer. Or let them screen films on Blu-ray, which they can currently do.

The movie went off without a hitch. The large and enthusiastic audience, combined with the flawless changeover projection, made it a wondeful moviegoing experience.

The Palace opened in 1925. It's on the National Register of Historical Places, and the State Historic Register. In addition to movies, its used for concerts, educational events, and film festivals.