Needed: The Regal

On the eve of the Hamptons International Film Festival, a rumor that the East Hampton movie theater was going to be no more tore through town with notable speed. Facebook was alight with variations on a story that a developer had plans to remove the screens and turn the site over to retail. Calls to the theater, now owned by the Regal Entertainment Group, as well as to the corporate office, were answered by plausible denials

Think what you might about the first-run Hollywood fare that the East Hampton theater serves up most of the year, the movie house remains important in the cultural scene here. Summertime movie-going is part of the annual ritual of many part-time residents, as is taking the kids to see something appropriate on a bleak winter’s day when there is absolutely nothing else to do.

For a discerning audience, the East Hampton Regal really comes alive during the film festival. For 25 years, the theater has been the hub of this fall highlight, with quite a number of Academy Award-nominated and winning films among the titles that have been there. Without the cinema’s five central screens, the festival would have a decidedly lower profile and ticket buyers far less enthusiastic.

There is no escaping the reality that times are tougher for movie theater operators than they once were. Attendance is at a two-decade low as more people use on-demand streaming services at home — and now technological advances may allow ordinary audiences to slip into virtual reality goggles wherever and whenever they please.

There still is nothing quite like the sensation of taking in a movie in a big, dark room with a crowd of strangers, and the smell of popcorn in the air as the opening credits roll. This experience will keep movie theaters in the picture for the foreseeable future. There still is no substitute for the big screen.