If there is any place able to top the haven of a movie theater for a film lover it’s, without question, the drive-in. Alexander Monelli’s simple and straightforward documentary At the Drive-In captures the essence and atmosphere of one particular establishment and those who bring it to life.
Monelli set out to dig deep into the drive-in industry but his film was reshaped when he met the crew of the Mahoning Drive-In, located in Lehighton, Pennsylvania. The long-standing establishment, like most theaters trying to stay fresh and relevant, played first-run movies for as long as they could. Things became challenging for Jeff and his team at the advent of digital projection when distributors were phasing out 35mm prints.
“…captures the essence and atmosphere of one particular establishment and those who bring it to life.”
Jeff was faced with a dilemma; how could he stay open when a digital projector was not a purchase his limited budget could handle? Jeff, along with Matt and Virgil, decided to program retro film screenings, which would allow them to obtain 35mm film prints. But will crowds continue to show up for older films?
At the Drive-In shows one theater’s reaction to the demanding change of the film exhibition business and how, amidst the stress and uncertainty, it was handled with passion and camaraderie. The staff of the Mahoning Drive-In work for free and choose to make this a part of their lives because they love movies and appreciate old slasher films and comedies, which can’t often be screened in mainstream theaters. At the Drive-In succeeds in building its story on the Mahoning community, which, as trite as it might be, accurately refer to themselves as a family.
“…succeeds in building its story on the Mahoning community, which…refer to themselves as a family.”
Monelli’s film is a dog whistle for cinephiles and those who miss the days of grainy film, cigarette burns and the sounds of film going through a projector. There’s an authenticity that can’t be captured by digital cinema and while At the Drive-In doesn’t look to condemn the evolving nature of projecting films, it’s hard not to be nostalgic while watching the documentary.
At the Drive-In is in equal doses a celebration and a eulogy but it’s without a doubt something every film lover should see. After watching this film, maybe head to the closest drive-in and enjoy a double feature under the stars. Even better, do some research and try and locate a classic film that’s being projected on 35mm (I’m fortunate to live in a town that has a large film archive and shows weekly film screenings). At the Drive-In doesn’t look to task you with this endeavor but I’m more than happy to.
At the Drive-In (2018) Directed by Alexander Monelli
8 out of 10