Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Dwindling drive-ins face tech troubles

Outdoor theatres struggle to survive in the digital age

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 A family watches a film at the Stardust Drive-In in Morden. Operators hope the drive-in experience will make up for the lack of the latest releases.

MELISSA TAIT / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS ARCHIVES Enlarge Image

A family watches a film at the Stardust Drive-In in Morden. Operators hope the drive-in experience will make up for the lack of the latest releases. Photo Store

Manitoba's three drive-in movie theatres plan to operate this year -- with two opening this weekend -- but they may not have the freshest movies.

None of the drive-ins managed to raise capital to purchase digital projectors. Movie studios are phasing out 35 millimetre film, and gave all movie houses until 2013 to convert to digital.

However, movie studios are still releasing a limited number of movies on film. The films will take longer to trickle down to theatres.

Marlene Nelson of the family-run Stardust Drive-In in Morden has managed to line up films until the end of June.

"(Movie studios) haven't told me how long we'll be able to do this. We feel like we'll jump on the bandwagon as long as we can," she said.

Stardust also has to update its sound system, for a total cost of $90,000 to convert. It has raised $13,500 so far through fundraisers. If it can raise half the needed sum, that might be enough for owners to put up the remaining investment.

Drive-ins, with their short seasons, have a hard time justifying the expense of converting to digital equipment. Most are family-owned and operate with little or no profit and more out of the love of showing movies.

The Stardust kicks off its season this long weekend with Snitch, released in February. Its long-weekend triple-feature Sunday night will be Escape From Planet Earth (animated), Snitch and Safe Haven. Nelson believes customers will be somewhat forgiving about the later releases so long as they can enjoy the drive-in experience. Doors open at 8:30 p.m. and show time is about 9:30 p.m. Its movies are listed at stardustmorden.tripod.com.

The Shamrock Drive-In in Killarney will not open this weekend, however. It hopes to open for the July long weekend, said Joanne Struss.

The Struss family that owns the Shamrock is still trying to figure out how to survive in the digital age. Joanne said the family is hoping either equipment prices come down or that they can locate some used digital equipment. With new digital projectors going for $80,000, "we would never be out of the red," she said. In the meantime, they'll try to hold on. The Shamrock Drive-In is on Facebook.

"We talked to five movie companies. Most are producing from three to 10 prints per movie. So movies won't be just two weeks old" before they reach the drive-in, she said. "One company said it would be completely digital by the end of summer."

Big Island Drive-In in Flin Flon is showing Identity Thief, released in February, on Friday and Saturday, and double feature G.I. Joe: Retaliation and A Good Day To Die Hard on Sunday.

bill.redekop@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 18, 2013 A20

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