Projectionist worked in bygone era for downtown Iowa City movie theaters

Film projectionist jobs are becoming obsolete as digital equipment becomes the norm

Gregg Hennigan
Published: March 20 2014 | 12:25 pm - Updated: 1 April 2014 | 9:54 am in

IOWA CITY – Terry Kadera’s job was to help people escape daily life. His death gives them a reason to recall a different era.

Kadera was a longtime projectionist at downtown Iowa City movie theaters. There no longer are traditional movie houses in the city’s center. And projectionists, at least as Kadera knew the job, are also largely a thing of the past.

“We lost our projectionist,” said Vickie Schleif, who managed several Iowa City area theaters in the 1980s and 1990s and employed Kadera.

She was speaking about the job becoming obsolete as digital equipment becomes the norm, but her words apply to Kadera, too.

Kadera, of Iowa City, died last month at age 68. A memorial is scheduled for 10 a.m. March 21 in the chapel at St. Joseph Cemetery in Iowa City.

He died of natural causes, said his niece, Carol Waldschmidt of Iowa City.

Kadera, a City High School graduate, began working as a projectionist in 1965 while still a teenager. He’d stay in the profession more than three decades.

He started at the Varsity Theatre on Washington Street in downtown Iowa City and later moved across the block to the Englert Theatre.

At the start of his career, Kadera likely used two projectors to show one film, which would come on several reels. When a cue, often a circle, was seen in the upper-right corner of the screen, a projectionist would start the second projector with the next reel.

By the time Schleif was at the Englert with Kadera in the late 1980s, the projectionist would splice the film into a single reel to run through one projector.

But Kadera was more than an anonymous figure in the booth above the seats. He cleaned the carpet, performed maintenance, worked the concession stand and took tickets.

“It was his life,” Schleif said.

She brought him to the Campus III movie theater in Old Capitol Town Center when the Englert closed in 1999 (it reopened a few years later as a performing-arts venue). Campus III shut down in 2007.

Schleif is now the manager of a movie theater in Ottumwa that runs on a digital system. It has no projectionist.

Downtown Iowa City was without a movie theater until last fall, when the nonprofit organization FilmScene opened a 67-seat art-house cinema.

It too has a digital system for showing films. It employs projectionists, but their work is more akin to diagnosing IT problems, said co-founder Andy Brodie.

Kadera’s was a different era with the large movie houses downtown and the role of a projectionist, he said.

“I think traditionally projectionists are people who really love movies and want to work with them and be around them and are excited about the movie-going experience,” said Brodie, who did not know Kadera.

When Waldschmidt, Kadera's niece, cleaned out his mobile home recently, there were about 1,000 movies on VHS cassettes, along with model train sets and other collectibles, she said.

“He was a homebody, but he loved (being a projectionist),” she said.

FilmScene hopes to move into a new space in a few years and have two screens, with one using a two-projector system to show old 35 mm films, Brodie said. If that happens, they will need to either train their staff on how to use the projector or hire someone to run it, he said.

There just aren’t many people like Terry Kadera anymore.

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