Film

Drive-In Dreams

Have screen, will travel

Wednesday, July 29, 2020

As an employee of the Pickford Film Center, the only question I have gotten more often than “When will you reopen?” has been “Can the Pickford do a drive-in while you’re closed?” That second inquiry has come both via the internet and in real life, and is typically followed by an offer of help in whatever capacity needed to make these drive-in dreams a reality.

Turns out, pretty much the minute the Pickford went dark in mid-March, we began to plot, plan and scheme about how we could show movies to the public somewhere, anywhere. We knew our own theaters were not an option—nor did we want them to be as we are committed to keeping patrons, volunteers and staff safe from the effects of COVID-19. After a rapid cycle through all available options, it was glaringly evident there was only one available option: the Pickford needed to morph into a drive-in movie theater.

But where would we do it?

I’d like to think that my saying, “Why not use the old drive-in site?” during a Pickford staff Zoom lunch was the catalyst for what came next, but it’s probable if not likely that idea was already all over the drawing board by the time I made my completely obvious suggestion.

For those who have not lived in Bellingham for the past 15 or so years, the “old drive-in” was the Samish Twin Drive-In, which was located in the spot now home to the Lincoln Creek Park and Ride. It had two screens, room for 575 cars, and was an excellent way to see movies for three-plus decades until it closed in 2003 and was bought by Western Washington University, who transformed it into the much-needed park and ride in 2004.

Since then, every so often someone floats the idea of appealing to WWU to return what is now an expansive parking lot to its former drive-in glory during the summer when the park and ride is underutilized. But those plans typically stall out due to the fact that erecting an outdoor movie theater, even on a temporary basis, requires an enormous—and expensive—outlay of equipment, expertise and infrastructure.

It just so happens the Pickford has in its possession all of the aforementioned items needed—from the giant inflatable screen and powerful projector right on down to the popcorn machine—and we love to amass our army of staff and volunteers to deploy them whenever and wherever we can. Our official motto might be “More than movies,” but I’ve joked on occasion that it should really be “Have screen, will travel” given the number of weird and wacky places we’ve shown movies during our two decades of existence.

All that remained was to get buyoff from WWU and we could transform our bummer summer of 2020 into our drive-in dream come true.

Since the Pickford has an established relationship with WWU, particularly through AS Productions and the Alumni Association, the theater got more than just permission, it also got full-fledged partners for all movie night shenanigans. After picking films, nailing down logistics including the COVID-19 safety measures that are at the forefront of all considerations these days, they unleashed WWU’s Summer Drive-In upon a very bored and grateful public.

When ticket sales went live Fri., July. 24, it came with a directive to buy early because both nights of the event were expected to sell out. Truer predictions have never been made, as not long after that came word that no more tickets were left for the Fri., July 31 double feature of Jurassic Park and Get Out (pictured). As I’m writing this, tickets for Saturday’s showing of Men in Black and The Matrix are still available, but going fast, so if you’d like to partake, hie thyself to thy computing device and make a reservation. (Update: Saturday’s showing is now also sold out. Well done, drive-in fans.) Given how quickly people are jumping on the WWU/PFC collaborative entertainment effort, I have to imagine further plans are hatching to possibly add future dates.

After all, have screen, will travel.

For more information about WWU’s Summer Drive-In, see http://www.alumni.wwu.edu/all-events. Too keep an eye on what the Pickford is up to, head to http://www.pickfordfilmcenter.org.

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