The drive-in movie theatre, a North American institution for eight decades, is in danger. Not because of dwindling attendance, which some say is actually growing, but from the digital revolution.
So Honda Motor Co. in the U.S. has set itself the task of preserving these cultural icons through a campaign it is calling Project Drive-In.
The peril comes from Hollywood itself, which will stop distributing 35 mm film to all North American movie theatres by the end of the year. While not a big deal for large indoor movie houses, the costly switch to digital projection equipment – up to $100,000 per screen – has put drive-ins at risk. Honda is not only creating public awareness of the drive-ins’ plight with its campaign, it is encouraging people to donate to the Project Drive-In Fund and will award digital projection systems to five theatres. Which five will be determined by people visiting www.projectdrivein.com.
A Honda Canada spokesperson said, “We currently have no plans to launch a similar campaign in Canada.”
No longer part of huge theatre chains, most drive-ins today are family-run businesses that operate seasonally in colder climes. Honda’s campaign says 368 remain in the U.S. About 50 still operate in Canada, mostly in Ontario.
The first drive-in theatre opened in Camden, N.J. in 1933. Canada’s first – the Skyway Drive-In in Stoney Creek, Ont. – opened in 1946. Longevity goes to Ontario’s Port Hope Drive-In, on (where else?) Theatre Road, which has been in continuous operation since 1952.
Going to the drive-in was once both a family and community event. And if you were a teenager, what was showing on the screen wasn’t as important as the opportunity to spend some time with your sweetie in the dark.
Back in the drive-ins’ heyday in the 1950s and ’60s, it was easy to snuggle on the front bench seat that was standard in most vehicles. (For the romantically inclined, a car with bucket seats would have been a huge problem.) Some couples would get even closer in the back seat – a place reserved in future years for the children such snuggling might have produced.
“Cars and drive-in theatres go hand-in-hand, and it’s our mission to save this decades-old slice of Americana that holds such nostalgia for so many of us,” said Alicia Jones, manager of Honda & Acura social marketing at American Honda Motor Co. “We’re committed to helping the remaining drive-in theatres flourish with the move to digital projection.”