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Audiences rediscover charms of drive-in theatres

Nostalgia, scares bring movie-goers to drive-ins, which are seeing a resurgence thanks to COVID-19

NEEBING TOWNSHIP, Ont. – As movie pre-shows go, one could do worse than watching the sun set over the Nor’westers. It’s just one of the twists on the traditional theatre-going experience that’s drawing crowds to the Interstellar Outdoor Cinema.

Interstellar, located about 40 kilometres south of Thunder Bay on Cloud Lake Road, is one of two drive-in movie theatres to open in the area over the summer, offering residents the allure of the silver screen for the first time since Cineplex shuttered in March due to COVID-19.

Audience members welcomed the chance to engage in the communal activity after months of isolation.

“It’s just nice to get a chance to go out and do something at this time – like, anything,” said Emma Cavar, who came for a showing of Dirty Dancing on Sunday night with family members Erica and Julia.

Like many attendees – especially those on the younger side – all three were experiencing the charms of a drive-in theatre for the first time.

“This is a completely new experience for a lot of people,” said manager Darren McChristie. “They like the freedom – the fact you can talk with the person you’re with, you can set up and get nice and cozy like people are doing.”

For others, returning to the drive-in recreated an experience they hadn’t had since childhood. Recapturing that nostalgia is a major aspect of Interstellar’s appeal, said McChristie.

Three weeks into the theatre’s inaugural season, he and his team were beginning to get a sense of what resonates with audiences – and what doesn’t.

“[It could be] a really good movie, but it’s not necessarily a movie people want to see on the big screen at a drive-in theatre,” he explained. “We’re starting to figure that people like to feel nostalgic. Especially with COVID-19, they want to feel good about what they’re watching – or they want to be scared, is the other thing.”

Upcoming screenings reflect that dichotomy, with crowd-pleasing classics like Jurassic Park and Good Morning, Vietnam mixing with horrors like The Hunt and The Invisible Man.

More family films will be offered as earlier sunsets allow start times to move up. Shows currently start between 9:30 and 10 p.m.

McChristie hopes to continue screenings through October. Thanks to Interstellar’s fully mobile set-up, plans for other events, like streaming concerts and bringing the movie experience to other communities in the region, are brewing.

More information on Interstellar Outdoor Cinema, including showtimes and pricing, is available at their website.