Take It Outside: Drive-Ins
No one could have ever anticipated that drive-in movie theaters would be the sole survivor of the film exhibition’s unraveling during the COVID-19 pandemic. When the transition from 35mm film prints to digital cinema occurred nearly 10 years ago, many drive-ins simply did not have the capital to change their projection. With short seasons dictated by the weather and the opportunity to only have one paid audience per night, many theaters simply couldn’t survive and shuttered when they couldn’t get top Hollywood blockbuster releases, the mainstay of the business.
A few managed to make the transition to digital and survived and a few new ones, like the Sauerbeck Family Drive-In in Oldham County opened within the past couple years with family fare and a nostalgic viewing experience.
When the pandemic hit in mid-March, drive-ins provided the social distancing that was essential to make safe film viewing possible, but most states sill kept them closed choosing a strict policy against any type of communal gathering. EVO Entertainment in Sheritz, Texas had its cinema closed, but revamped its parking lot into a drive-in and sold out each show. Their biggest concern was having the film end by the town’s 10 pm curfew. The pandemic has also led Iran to allow a drive-in to open in Tehran for the first time in 41 years. The Sauerbeck Family Drive-In was forced to shut down in mid-March, but has since reopened.
One issue drive-ins are facing is the lack of new releases. Major studios have halted the theatrical release of their major titles pushing them to the late summer or fall when they anticipate that a large section of the cinemas may be reopened across the U.S. Most drive-ins are relying on recent titles that may have been released prior to the closure of theaters or classic films to draw audiences.
In Berlin, Windowflix (a play on Netflix) keeps the communal experience of view films alive by setting up projections of films in courtyard buildings for residents to experience by opening their windows or sitting on their balconies. The project was started to raise awareness and raise funds for the cities art house cinemas that are shuttered during the pandemic. The program is free and residents can request a screening if they have at least 20 apartments facing a blank wall in their courtyard.
These inventive ways to continue to view art during the pandemic are not just focused on films, but also paintings and sculpture. The New York Times just reported on last weekend’s Drive-by-Art (Public Art in This Moment of Social Distancing), an exhibition of the work of 52 artists displayed outdoors on Long Island.
Despite the constraints of social distancing, the revival of drive-ins, outdoor projection, and outdoor exhibitions have offered alternative ways to experience art safely.