Britain gets a taste for the drive-in movie

Film lovers are discovering the delights of outdoor showings. At £25 per car, Kate Youde finds a growing band of devotees

Sunday 05 June 2011 00:00
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Despite its popularity in the United States, the drive-in movie never really got past first gear in the UK. Now a growing trend for outdoor cinema means British film fans are rolling up in increasing numbers to watch the big screen from their cars.

The popularity of al fresco screenings and experiential cinema, where films are shown in unusual locations, is fuelling growing interest in the retro genre immortalised in the musical flick Grease. And organisers claim the pricing – typically £25 a car – makes it cheaper than a family trip to the multiplex.

The Drive In Movie Experience launches this summer with a series of screenings at North Weald Airfield in Essex and Chepstow Racecourse, Monmouthshire, with plans to open at Uttoxeter Racecourse later this year. Dime Events, the company behind the concept, is in talks with Northern Racing, which runs Chepstow, Uttoxeter and eight other racecourses, to use more of its venues next year.

Phil Fellows, director of Dime Events, said the company was approaching country houses, estates and festivals, and hoped to run corporate drive-ins.

He said: "It's something fun, quirky. People want to do something different. They want to see a movie in a different kind of atmosphere rather than going to the cinema all the time."

Drive-ins screen older crowd-pleasers as opposed to new releases, with cinemagoers listening to the sound through their car radios. The communications regulator Ofcom, which issues licences for these broadcasts, usually receives about 20 applications a year for drive-in movies. Last year, it received 27 and has had 15 requests already so far this year.

Julie Trigg founded Drivein-Movies after seeing a drive-in soon after being made redundant from her job as a conference and events manager last September. She is launching with Dirty Dancing in a York field later this month and Mamma Mia! at the historic Temple Newsam estate in Leeds next month.

Now in its third year, the open-air film festival Freedayz, in Folkestone, is screening its first drive-in movie in August, at Haugelands Farm in Romney Marsh.

Other venues offering the experience this summer include Swanpool Beach, Falmouth, and Plumpton Racecourse in East Sussex.

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Durham County Council will decide this month whether to allow drive-in movies at Bishop Auckland football club.

Toby Budd, manager of Cornwall-based Skylight Cinema, which offers outdoor screenings, said the drive-in movie was "definitely something that's taking off" but that many potential organisers were put off by the high cost: hire of the cinema kit alone costs about £2,000. He warned that a sponsor was usually needed to make a drive-in commercially viable.

Oliver Good, managing director of Stubbings Estate in Maidenhead, which is holding two drive-ins this September to attract younger people to the estate, admitted it was a challenging commercial concept but that he was taking a "long-term view".

He claimed bad weather was not a barrier to enjoyment. The estate also has a couple of 4x4s equipped with jump leads in case of flat batteries.

The trend is now spreading to other forms of transport: Skylight Cinema hopes to organise a "boat-in", while a not-for-profit education project, Magnificent Revolution, is planning "cycle-in" cinema for London.

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