Kickstarter Campaign Brings Digital Projector to Honokaa People’s Theatre

Honokaa Peoples' Theater

Honokaa People’s Theatre has beaten the odds and got its funding through a Kickstarter campaign to purchase a new digital projection system in order to keep showing films well into the future.

The theatre was forced to purchase a $60,000 digital projection system in order to continue showing films beyond the end of this year. The movie industry is abandoning the practice of sending films out on 35mm prints and moving on to a digital delivery system. All of the big, mainstream theatre chains have converted to digital projection.

Small operators and second run movie houses have been caught in an expensive dilemma of either biting the digital bullet and upgrading, or going dark because of cost and the fact that movies will not be delivered on film anymore. Film projectors will become as obsolete as victrola phonographs, 8-track tape players and VCRs.

Because the cost of obtaining a digital projector was so great, Honokaa People’s Theatre turned to the community in order to seek funding. The Kickstarter campaign was launched early this summer with the goal of bringing in $40,000 to fund a major part of the system. At the campaign’s end on September 27, the theatre covered its goal and then some by bringing in $43,995.

The theatre held an earlier campaign in which it raised $10,000. The film Honokaa Boy is being used as a fundraising vehicle where it has been shown numerous times in the theatre. The Japanese made film was shot in Honokaa in 2008 where the theatre itself was one of the central locations in the story about a young man’s relationship with an older woman.

To say the least the operators of the theatre are happy as expressed in their latest Kickstarter email: “Big mahalos friends!  From the bottom of our hearts, we love you all and we’re so glad to be here! Wooo hooo we made it!”

Honokaa People’s Theatre has been in business since 1930 operated for most of its existence by the Tanimoto family who owned other theaters on the Big Island of Hawaii. The theatre changed hands in the late 1980s when Dr. Tawn Keeney bought it and upgraded the facility over several years.

Today People’s Theatre not only shows movies, but is a showcase for many live music and dance events as well as classes for the people in the Hamakua – Honokaa community.

While a digital future is assured in Honokaa, Hilo’s discount movie theatre in the old Kress building closed on September 26 because its operators Regal Entertainment Group could not justify the cost of upgrading their equipment to digital. The theatre space has been leased to a church.

The author spent his childhood and teen years in Honokaa and attended many movies at People’s Theatre from the 1960s through the late 1970s. He is one of the donors to the Kickstarter campaign. Written and photographed by Melvin Ah Ching. Photos (top): Honokaa People’s Theatre familiar facade. Below: The interior of the theatre looks much like it always has except that some of the front row seats were removed to make room for a larger stage area.

Honokaa People's Theater


Melvin Ah Ching is a photographer, consultant, blogger, desktop publisher, and computer enthusiast living and working in Hawaii. The Hawaii Files have been online since 2006.