Newberry theater raising funds in bid to stay open

NEWBERRY – In a last ditch effort to save his historic Tahqua-Land Theatre in Newberry, owner Fred Dunkeld has mounted a Kickstarter campaign to raise $75,000 to transfer his projector and sound from 35 millimeter film to digital format.

Without the ability to reformat his equipment, Dunkeld anticipates he will have to close his historic theater, which was built during the Great Depression, by the end of summer.

A dwindling supply of films available in 35 millimeter format is driving the urgency of Dunkeld’s plight.

“The film companies just aren’t putting out the prints,” Dunkeld said. “There’s a definite limit now on 35 millimeter stock.”

Dunkeld said it’s only a matter of time before 35 millimeter film offerings are no longer available.

“I’ve been very limited through what I can rent film-wise,” Dunkeld said.

The Kickstarter website helps raise money for thousands of people. Since Kickstarter’s launch in 2009, 5.7 million people have pledged a total of $1 billion, funding 57,000 creative projects.

For Dunkeld to get his project funded, he needs pledges totaling the entire $75,000 by 10:36 a.m. on April 18. So far, a total of roughly $7,000 has been pledged through the website from 100 or so backers.

The money Dunkeld is raising through his “Digital or Die” Kickstarter project would pay for a range of items including a new digital projector, a digital sound system, wiring, a screen and training on the new equipment.

From Rogers City to Grayling, several theaters in Michigan have successfully raised greater amounts of money with Kickstarter to complete their own theater reformatting projects. Dunkeld said state officials had intended to help fund transition projects for theaters until budgets were cut.

Dunkeld said the Michigan Economic Development Corporation estimates 20 theaters in the state have closed. He said theater owners had not anticipated the cost of reformatting their projectors.

“There’s just not enough money coming in to go out and finance something like that,” Dunkeld said.

The Tahqua-Land Theater was originally opened as the State Theatre in August 1930. It was built for $60,000, half of which was paid for by selling bonds to village residents.

The movie house, which seated 400 patrons, was designed by a Marquette architect and built by a Milwaukee, Wis., company. Dunkeld bought the theater after it had deteriorated to a dilapidated condition by the early 1970s.

After working to renovate it, he first reopened in 1973. In 2001, he closed for extensive renovations, which included hiring a Toronto painting crew to craft wall murals depicting scenes from Greek mythology.

“The building was built Greek-Italian Renaissance, 1930,” Dunkeld said during a Mining Journal visit to the theater to see the renovations in April 2002. “The original murals have been lost to time, painted over.”

Dunkeld looked at the design and decor of many theaters, hoping to find just the right idea for reworking the Tahqua-Land.

“I settled on a Greek mythology theme,” he said. “The whole process of going to the movies is kind of a fantasy. I thought it (mythology) would fit in pretty good.”

The two Canadian artists visited the theater in 2000 and would ultimately produce nine full-color reproductions of murals dating back to the 18th Century. The artwork covers 700 square feet. Some of the reproductions include the “Triumph of Amphitrite,” “Allegory of Time Revealing the Truth,” and “Death of Orpheus.”

To donate to the theater’s Kickstarter project, visit:

John Pepin can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 206. His email address is