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'Oppenheimer' uses UNCSA staff and alumni as its film projectionists

Across the states, film projectionists bring Oppenheimer to the screen with the 70mm format. Here in North Carolina, UNCSA staff and alumni serve as this select few.

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. — Film projection is a dying art.

“Everything is automated now, so you receive the file, you set up when it's going to play, and the projector does it all by itself," said UNCSA's Video Content Producer, Adam Whitmer.

But it’s not a lost one.

“What the projectionist does is they take the physical film, and they thread it through the projector and they make sure it runs without any hiccup," Whitmer said.

The acclaimed drama, Oppenheimer, is one of the few films out right now that were shot specifically for this format. And UNC School For The Arts is one of the few places across the entire country with masters of this projectionist craft here at the Film Archives.

“We know that there are 13 or 14 of us from UNCSA on this project and that might be a third of the projectionists on the whole project! It’s a huge portion of it that is coming from this school simply because they couldn’t find people who knew how to do this anywhere else," said Witmer.

In addition to being an alum of UNSCA, Whitmer is also one of these specialized film projectionists.

“Actually, the archives were one of the main draws for me, I toured this facility when I was in high school, and I was taken by the magic of what was around me and one of the guys actually pulled it out and showed me the picture through the film and that kind of lit the fuse for me," said Whitmer.

For three weeks, Witmer operated a projector for audiences in St. Louis, Missouri, of the 70mm reel of Oppenheimer.

“Every day I would wake up and I would go to my theater, and I would prefer the print to be screened for the first 10:30 show and would then run it and then set up for the next one 40 minutes later and just do that before my projectionist partner would come and relieve me," recalled Witmer.

For a film fan like him, it was a dream.

“You know in North Carolina, in Winston-Salem, at UNCSA, to be asked to be a part of this big national —I mean Oppenheimer is very much a part of the zeitgeist at the moment, I mean you’ve got Barbie and Oppenheimer and all of the social media magic that has been surrounding it," said Whitmer.

However, as a specialist in his line of work, he, along with the rest of the staff, takes pride in their work.

“This used to be an industry where it was a career! People were career projectionists, and that career doesn’t exist anymore because of digital, so we’re kind of the last bastion *laughs* of that. We’re the last craftsman so to speak of this dying art and to that in and of itself feels special," said Whitmer.

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