[Cross-posted at Dr. Mabuse's Kaleidoscope.]
The current Cinema Journal (45.3) has an interesting and valuable forum on the death of 16mm. The problem is a familiar one: DVD has allowed vastly improved availability of film texts, both for personal research and classroom screening, but it has also given departments and university administrations the excuse to curtail their screenings in 16mm. There are partly nostalgic reasons to bemoan 16mm's demise, but some better ones, too: 16mm remains the primary gauge for distribution of experimental work; it gives students more than approximation of the formal characteristics of the photographic image itself; and it sets the tone for a more theatrical filmwatching experience rather than the distractedness of the home video setting.
Currently, I'm in an in-between situation. Thanks to lab/screening fees, Temple does have (modest) money that I can use for 16mm rental, for which I'm thankful, though as a rule they tend to prefer investment in a library of DVDs that can be used in subsequent semesters. Like many film schools, they have a (modest) collection of 16mm prints, a couple of which I'm screening in my intro class, but there exists no archivist, librarian or support staffperson to coordinate these holdings for classroom screening in a centralized fashion for the university, much less to aquire new material or arrange for rentals. Classrooms, including the lecture hall I'm in for intro, do seem to be set up for 16mm projection, often with decent equipment, yet the lack of culture around 16mm screening means that any instructor wanting to do 16 is the difficult exception and must take the initiative and work to do test runs and projection her or himself. In other words, for someone insisting on 16mm (and I do, especially for at least a couple of films for intro), I could be in a far worse environment, but I'm still saddened and even frustrated that more is not shown on film here these days.
I'd be curious to hear others' experiences. Do people have it better - or worse - than me? Do people have resources or strategies they'd suggest to continue to use 16mm? I've not tried interlibrary loans yet, or the smaller soon-to-go-out-of-business distributors.