More than half a century ago, there were 4000 drive-in movie theaters in the United States, and watching a movie from your car was a popular way to spend an evening. But with the number of drive-ins reduced to just a few hundred, a new breed of outdoor movie has been popping up across the nation. Going to an open-air theater has become a modern summer pastime for many movie fans.
A huge inflatable screen is being erected in a park in downtown Rosslyn, Virginia, a busy suburb outside of Washington. It is for a film festival that night.
Brynne Magaziner came early with her husband. “We try to come at least a couple times every summer. Just nice to be outside in the beautiful weather and watch a movie. And it is free, which is a bonus.”
Nick Donner came with friends. "I enjoy the social aspect being with friends and seeing movies that I haven’t seen in a while. It’s relaxing to be here.”
The Rosslyn Business Improvement District, known as BID, started the Outdoor Film Festival in 2007. It features a free movie every Friday night during the warm weather, from mid-May to the end of August. Lee Anne McLarty is the group’s acting director of communications.
“The Rosslyn BID really wants to change the perception that people have of Rosslyn. And so part of that is offering new experiences and cultural entertainment that Rosslyn is increasingly becoming known for, outside of being a business center,” she said.
On average, McLarty said, about 1,000 people attend each movie night. “It is a lot of young professionals, young workers and residents in and around Arlington that come over from D.C. They even come from the suburbs of Maryland and Virginia.”
In recent years, outdoor movie screenings have cropped up in parks, vacant lots and shopping malls around the nation. Many of them are part of development or revitalization initiatives.
The NoMa Summer Screen [NoMa = North of Massachusetts Avenue] started six years ago in a Washington neighborhood. Rachel Davis, the director of marketing and events for the NoMa BID, said, “When we started it, there wasn’t very much in the middle of NoMa with all being developed at the time. And there were a bunch of residential neighborhoods around. So this was really an event to bring people together and form a community gathering place for them.”
Old trend gets new life
A little rain does not discourage these movie fans, and food trucks in the vacant lot cater to those who want something to eat before the show starts.
For some, the outdoor movies are reminiscent of the drive-in theaters of their youths.
“This is comparable to the atmosphere of drive-ins. We can bring friends, food, good wine, and watch the movie together,” said Lua Cherbakov.
Americans’ revitalized love affair with outdoor movies makes Stephen Bastas ever busier. He is a partner of Moonflics, which rents outdoor movie screens. Bastas said his seven-member crew sets up screens in various locations mostly in the Washington area every day throughout the summer.
“We are doing pretty well. We’ve actually doubled over the past two and a half years, and we hope to continue the trend. And it looks like we are going to,” he said.
That's because many fans say there is nothing like watching a movie on a breezy summer evening under the stars.