According to Duffy Bersinky, the 83-year-old owner of the Sundown Drive-in near Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada, the summer of 2009 was his best year for business in well over a decade. This is despite the fact that earlier in the year he tried to sell the business because no one seemed interested in going to the drive-in anymore.
The first drive-in movie theater was opened by a man named Hollingshead in New Jersey on June 6, 1933. As the car industry in America continued to take off and most middle-class nuclear families had at least one vehicle (and usually multiple children who could be seen as a disturbance in a regular movie theater), the drive-in’s popularity continued to rise throughout the 50s and 60s.
From those decidedly humble beginnings, a U.S. institution was born, one that exploded in the post–World War II automobile culture. The drive-in era peaked in 1958, with nearly 5,000 theaters across the U.S. But in 1966, daylight saving time led to summer showings at 9 p.m., making the screenings less appealing to families. Air-conditioned theaters trumped steamy summer nights, and by the 1980s, the VCR and cable TV dealt another blow to the ailing industry. By 1995, fewer than 500 drive-ins were left. (Open Air Cinema)
Despite this slow death, the outdoor theater is coming back into vogue, though the automobile is increasingly a less central part of the experience. The popular DIY or guerilla drive-in seems to be as much about reclaiming space for political reasons as the desire to watch a film under the stars. This kind of community activity is made possible as the technology to mount a temporary outdoor movie space is increasingly affordable, available and made more appealing as individuals continue to reject spending a fortune to see tepid Hollywood blockbusters in multiplex cinemas.
It won’t help Duffy Belinsky, but MobMov has written up a how-to that will teach you everything you need to know about making your own guerilla mobile theatre from scratch.