The big show: the lure of the screening rooms

“People were seeing episodes like they were in a movie theatre. That was a big draw at conventions.” — Michael Zarrillo

Conventions then and now have a bunch of elements in common, like dealers’ rooms, stars on stages, and costume and art shows, but one big draw faded when DVDs and bigger TVs became common: screening rooms.

“Back in the 1970s, TVs were 19-inches and half of the people had colour and half had black-and-white,” said con organizer Michael Zarrillo. “At a convention, you could project films in colour and fill a movie screen. People went nuts because the quality was so great and people were seeing episodes like they were in a movie theatre. Seeing the episodes at conventions helped fuel Star Trek in the ’70s.” 

Screens were set up in three rooms at Toronto Star Trek ’76, showing films, episodes and the blooper reel. The organizers had secured permission to screen the movies, and convention goers could choose from 20 mainstream films, including classics The Day The Earth Stood Still, The Time Machine, Forbidden Planet, 2001: A Space Odyssey, and the first three Planet of the Apes films. There were also a number of lesser lights on Super 8, such as Horror Express and Hoppity Goes to Town.

A page from the convention program, listing the films that would be shown.

On Saturday alone, the projectors ran for more than 31 hours. Doug McGarvey was one of the two main projectionists.

“Saturday night I ran the projector all night and I kept falling asleep. There was a good group at first but it thinned out by 4:00 or 5:00 in the morning. The sun was coming up and there were still people there, waking me up to put on a new film. There were a handful of people left in the room by the end and the sun was poking through the curtains.”

While the showing of those films was sanctioned, the same was not true of the Star Trek content, which became a problem for Debra Pearse Hartery just after the con closed.

The feature-length animated Hoppity Goes to Town is available for your viewing pleasure on YouTube.

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