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George Romero's 'Night of the Living Dead' screens on 16mm

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Kyra Schon provided an iconic image for George Romero's "Night of the Living Dead" in 1968.

In 1968, George Romero's "Night of the Living Dead" revolutionized horror by defining the modern zombie and placing the genre in a contemporary context where social commentary could be made. This Friday, Digital Gym Cinema and See It on 16mm will pay tribute to the horror classic by screening it on the format it was shot on.

Michael Aguirre did not grow up watching movies on actual 35mm and 16mm film prints (the numbers refer to the width of the film stock with 35mm having been the Hollywood theatrical standard). But when he saw his first movie on film, he fell in love.

"But to see it on film for the first time was a different experience," Aguirre said. "And ever since that, I've been really hooked on it. A year or two later, I started collecting film prints, which is a big mistake. You're chasing a dragon at this point, it kind of feels like but it's magical to me."

Magical enough to inspire him to form a company called "See It on 16mm" and to travel around the state with a 16mm projector in tow and a stack of film prints.

"It's been my life's calling at this point to screen prints, to restore prints," Aguirre said. "I'm currently attending grad school right now for archival and restoration, so I'm hoping to dedicate the rest of my life to preserving this stuff, because we're not going to have it around forever."

Courtesy of Michael Aguirre
Michael Aguirre of 'See It on 16mm' with his projector set up at an event. Undated photo.

For the screening this Friday night, Aguirre will be bringing his projector and setting up inside the Digital Gym Cinema's new space at Park and Market. Space is limited so he will only have one projector and will have to do what he calls "20 second reel changes," which will only make the screening more fun and exciting.

Aguirre is quick to point out that watching a film on 16mm is not perfect.

"So if you're into perfection, if you're into crisp, clear images, stick to digital," Aguirre said. "But if you're into analog and an imperfectness about it, there is a great allure to it. Film has a history to the prints. Many audiences have seen these prior to when it became my property at this point. And you see scratches, sometimes you see skips, you see splices, which are little tears in the film that you have to repair back. So I compare it to listening to a record, like an original record. There's hiss, there's pops. It's not perfect, but that experience of seeing it on film, on the big screen, it's a magical feeling that you really cannot get anywhere else these days. I truly believe that it's a special event anytime that film is able to be projected onto a big screen."

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Duane Jones plays Ben in George Romero's "Night of the Living Dead." Since it was 1968, it was rare to have a Black actor in a lead hero role.

For me, there is a magic and a romance to seeing a movie on film as opposed to digital projection. And it is especially appropriate to see Romero's "Night of the Living Dead" on 16mm.

"It was actually shot on 16 millimeter on a bunch of news equipment that Romero had," Aguirre said. "It was not shot on 35mm like big Hollywood motion pictures. It was 16 millimeter. So just to be able to see the film on the correct format that it was actually shot on and not blown up to a bigger picture, I think is truly magical."

Aguirre had to source a special lens from Holland to do the screening and he will be running horror themed 16mm trailers and maybe even some drive-in snack bar ads to put everyone in the mood for a vintage film experience.

"Night of the Living Dead" will screen on 16mm Friday night at Digital Gym Cinema. The 7:00 PM show is already sold out but tickets are still available for the 9:30 PM show.

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