Back to the Drive-In explores the truth behind the Drive-In renaissance during the pandemic and their struggles to stay afloat.
This is the sort of film where there are so many stories that April Wright features plenty more of them during the credits. It’s not a groundbreaking documentary but it’s a solid film as she continues capturing stories from theater owners and operators. In 2013, Wright released her first Drive-In documentary, Going Attractions: The Definitive Story of the American Drive-in Movie. She followed this up a few years later with other industry related documentaries, Going Attractions: The Definitive Story of the Movie Palace and Stuntwomen: The Untold Hollywood Story.
Unlike 500 locations in her earlier film, Wright keeps the focus on just 11 drive-in families during the drive-in renaissance. This film takes place during the summer of 2021 and it comes at a time when theaters were open but struggling. You may have heard they were thriving but this film shows the bigger picture at play. April finds out by traveling to 11 drive-ins on a road trip that takes her to eight different states. She talks to the owners and operators during a single day from before customers arrive all the way through the film playing on screen. And yes, we even get to see the weather issues at play. Fog is a serious business. Unlike the publicly traded theatrical chains, these family-owned businesses show us a different story. They aren’t thriving as well as we thought. But still, the pandemic brings about hope.
Wright focuses on the following theaters:
- GREENVILLE DRIVE-IN – Greenville, NY (in the Catskills)
- BRAZOS DRIVE-IN – Granville, TX (southwest of Dallas/Ft. Worth area)
- QUASAR DRIVE-IN – Valley, NE (Omaha area)
- WELLFLEET DRIVE-IN – Wellfleet, MA (Cape Cod)
- COYOTE DRIVE-IN – Ft. Worth, TX
- MISSION TIKI DRIVE-IN – Montclair, CA (Los Angeles area) (closing in 2022)
- FIELD OF DREAMS DRIVE-IN – Liberty Center, OH (Toledo area)
- BENGIES DRIVE-IN – Middle River, MD (Baltimore area)
- HARVEST MOON DRIVE-IN – Gibson City, IL
- GALAXY DRIVE-IN – Ennis, TX (south of Dallas/Ft. Worth)
- TRANSIT DRIVE-IN – Lockport, NY (Buffalo area)
Say what you will about streaming but the theatrical releases are important for the economy. The films will populate streaming services down the road but it’s important to let them make as much money as possible during the theatrical release. But as is the case across the board, fewer theatrical releases just increases the struggle for everyone. It’s something that we’re especially feeling in August since Hollywood just treats it like another January and gives up on it. The business, much like indoor theaters, also reflect our future. As they go, so goes the industry. When studios hold back their films, it is damaging for the business. Studios, please do better.
As technology changes, theaters are constantly having to reinvent themselves. Theaters really got thrown for a curveball during this hundred-year pandemic. It certainly hasn’t been easy by any means but they’ve battled their way through it. With governments forcing indoor theaters to close, these theaters were a saving grace. It allowed many films to hold a premiere in a safe manner.
Shortly after April’s visit to the Harvest Moon, a flood hits the area. You can’t help but feel for them but thankfully it receded before the end of the season. Theaters are already having to compete with streaming services when it comes to the audience. Many of them are struggling to break even, too. Will the pandemic renaissance be enough? We’ll just have to wait and see. One theater in the film is already on its final days, what with a demolition and all in 2022.
You’ll get no shortage of mask stories during this film. One in particular is TMI–a customer is so upset about wearing a mask in public that they choose to just go to the restroom in front of everyone. It’s no different than some of the terrible stories we’ve heard during the pandemic. I’m just warning you right now. When you look at where these theaters are, I cannot say that it is a surprise.
The pandemic may have brought audiences back but Back to the Drive-In works as a time capsule of this era. And yet, there is still optimism for the future even as the reality reflects differently.
DIRECTOR/SCREENWRITER: April Wright
Back to the Drive-In opens in theaters on August 12, 2022. Grade: 3.5/5
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