Stranded at the Drive-In

Banbridge cinema-goers catch the classics outdoors - weather permitting 

According to Mark Twain, the classics in literature are books nobody actually reads. In film, the classics are movies people watch over and over again.

With this in mind, Banbridge-based Iveagh Movie Studios are working to bring film favourites back to the big screen through that great American cinematic tradition: the drive-in movie theatre.

The cinema has invested in a 24ft x 13.5ft inflatable screen, which is temporarily situated at The Outlet shopping centre on the outskirts of the town.

Every Thursday and Friday night, weather permitting, Centre Manager Giles Conlon and

his staff brave the cold dark nights to bring old-school flicks to the people of County Downs.

‘The idea of the drive-in has been around for a long time, but they are really making a comeback in the USA’, says Giles.

‘I first attended a drive-in movie at Cape Cod in the summer of 2010. It was an amazing experience, but I only thought about bringing the idea to Northern Ireland when I saw the inflatable screen at the Amsterdam Cinema Expo.'

Customer opinion has been important to the success of the venture. A free text service keeps audiences posted on the latest screenings, and a popular Facebook page allows people to voice suggestions and give feedback.

For independent cinemas - struggling with the competition provided by omniplexes and the tendency by film distributors to only release the newest blockbusters to big city cinemas - the drive-in initiative offers something the big chains can't: a customised and novel cinematic experience.

A large marketing budget has proved unnecessary also, with social media websites allowing Iveagh Movie Studios to spread the word for free.

‘From the beginning we found Facebook to be key,' added Conlon. 'We first used it to broach the idea of the drive-in to the public and there was an immediate response to the idea.

'Initially the most popular suggestion of films to screen was Grease, so we opened the schedule with that. The majority of our scheduling is from the public. So far we’ve been pleasantly surprised with the response.’

The screenings are, of course, weather dependent. The inflatable screen is vulnerable to high winds and any indication of windy weather means that screenings have to be cancelled to ensure customer safety.

But last minute changes to the schedule are met with good grace by their loyal fan-base. Several Facebookers made wry comments when it was announced that the screening of Twister was cancelled due to high winds.

Organisers have their fingers crossed that with better weather approaching the rest of the season will go ahead as planned. Particularly, a special showing of the cult comedy Airplane on March 18, the proceeds of which will go to Comic Relief.

‘The drive-in is basically a fifth screen for us that allows us to play classic movies and audience favourites,' adds Conlon, 'and bring years-old films to new audiences. It’s an alternative form of entertainment that we can offer. It gets people talking.'

With screenings at The Outlet planned until April 1, Conlon hopes that the popular drive-in event will eventually become a year-round permanent fixture. Check out What's On in the weeks ahead for further details.