$100K reels to light up Music Box 70MM Film Festival

“Lawrence of Arabia”

The iconic
Chicago cinema’s
old-school celebration
underscores a
wide-format renaissance
currently sweeping
through Hollywood

From September 14 to 27, the Music Box Theatre is hosting The 70mm Film Festival 2018.

This year’s lineup includes a fresh print of David Lean’s Lawrence of Arabia, a blown-up print of John Carpenter’s The Thing, possibly the last 70mm reel of West Side Story, and nine other glorious epics shown in arguably the most theatric format of the cinema universe.

In the streaming era, it can be easy to forget that some films were born for the big screen. Classics from the 50s and 60s are widely available on Film Struck and other streaming services, but like always, the Music Box Theatre creates an excuse to move outside the home and into the world of cinematic magic.

Technical Director and Assistant Programmer of the Music Box Theatre Julian Antos remarks, “I like all of the formats, but 70 is definitely something where even if a person has no idea about what they’re seeing on screen, when they walk into the theater… their eyes light up.”



The 70mm Film Festival is unlike any other film festival. Most festivals struggle for months sifting through 100s of films to determine which is worthy of screening. For the 70MM Fest, there are only a few options.

Some of the options are 35mm smaller prints that at some point were blown up to be 70mm, most likely in the 1980s. Of those, Antos states, “There’s maybe a couple dozen, maybe like thirty at the most.”

As for films originally shot on 70mm, he reveals, “There’s maybe 15 at the most that exist… maybe 20 across the entire world.”

Of course, there used to be far more films available on 70mm, but not as many as one might think.

Antos explains, “Overall, it was a format that was not used super frequently. There was a time when you would see maybe half a dozen films shot on 70mm every year, but that is a relatively narrow timespan.”



To add to the drama of working with these rare film reels, Music Box Theatre projectionists have to keep in mind that, according to Antos, they are worth anywhere between $16,000 to $100,000.

While there is some comfort in knowing that they are financially insured up to $70,000, from an archival and historical perspective, there is even more pressure to handle them correctly.

Antos elaborates, “The Thing, that’s the only print of that in circulation on 70… West Side Story, that’s probably the only print. That’s definitely the studios’ only print. There may be a few other archival prints.”

If one of those is destroyed, the insurance money isn’t likely to go towards a new reel. That’s because it just probably isn’t worth the $100,000 investment.



In comparison to the common 35mm film reel, Antos states that the 70mm has “a bigger film area so there’s more places for the film to get scratched. It requires more power from the projector through the gate because it is thicker and the reel is heavier.”

He continues, “Anything bad that can happen with a smaller format, it is going to be like four times as bad with 70mm.” He continues, “A projectionist is more of an art handler than what everyone thinks.”

Fortunately for film enthusiasts, archivists, and historians, there shouldn’t be much to worry about from September 14th through September 27th.

The projectionists at the Music Box know their craft and have the experience. Besides the repertoire screenings, there has been a surprising amount of 70mm films shot within the last handful of years.

Quentin Tarantino, Christopher Nolan, and Paul Thomas Anderson have teamed up to revitalize the medium. The recent blockbusters, The Hateful Eight, Dunkirk, and Phantom Thread, are all included in those few 70mm reels left in circulation.

“Running Hateful Eight for several weeks and Phantom Thread for several weeks was really good training,” says Antos.

Antos the Music Box Theatre’s team is poised and ready to confidently handle and screen the priceless 70mm films over the next few weeks.

For more information and a complete list of screen times, click here.

Contact Joey Filer at Joey@reelchicago.com or follow him on Twitter @FilerJoey.