Romancing the Drive-In

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.

Amy Thibodeau

View posts by Amy Thibodeau
Amy Thibodeau is originally from the Canadian Prairies, spent the last few years in one of the world's greatest cities, London, UK and is spending the next year traveling around the world. She is interested in everything, but lately is mostly fixated on art, politics, creative writing, cuddly animals and experimenting with different kinds of photography. You can find her on her personal blog Making Strange, posting to her photography project Lost and Looking, on Twitter @amythibodeau, or working as a freelance content strategist via Contentini.