Date of Submission

Spring 2014

Academic Programs and Concentrations

Film and Electronic Arts

Project Advisor 1

Ben Coonley

Abstract/Artist's Statement

Artist Statement

Passion Pit

n. 1. A drive-in movie theater, so called due to its frequent use for unobserved intimacy

There are few things more American and nostalgic than the Drive-In movie theater. It is a unique remnant of simpler times, where people gather for leisure and discourse. While the audience is engaged intimately from the interior of their cars, it is the community and landscape that create the drive-in experience. This community is now in danger of disappearing completely with Hollywood’s decision to switch from 35mm to digital film. It is forcing the already declining venues to buy projectors they cannot afford. There are less than 350 drive-in theaters left, and it is still uncertain how many of these will re-open for the 2014 summer season.

Growing up in rural New England as a child, the drive-in theaters I attended were of a simple, generic “farm” model, forgotten by society and preserved as originally built. It is where I first fell in love with film and cinema, sitting in the grass under the stars with my family as the carbon arc projectors hummed in time with the crickets. The Northfield Drive-in is one of the last of these surviving theaters, located in my home county right on the MA and NH border. This past summer I set out to create a narrative film that incorporated the setting as a physical purgatory, paralleling its uncertain future. But as I collected footage for fundraising purposes, I realized the story playing out in front of me was too great and personal to ignore.

This project is an anthropological portrait of the Northfield Drive-In and the surrounding community that archives the course of a year as they deal with transitions. These include changes in technology, culture, and individual lifestyles, projected over the steady cycle of natural seasons. The story incorporates local citizens, but mostly focuses on three character’s different approaches to reconciling their memories of the past with the reality of the future. Paul Bater, a master projectionist like his father, retreats to the woods as his professional legacy suddenly disappears. Jonathan Boschen, a young local-theater historian, analyzes a perceived loss in culture as he attempts to span the generational gap. The Shakour family, drive-in theater owners for over 50 years, struggle to cope with new transformations in projection, and whether they will remain open for at least one more season. The film’s style is inspired by character studies in early Herzog films, and the unique landscapes and interviews of Errol Morris’s Vernon, Florida and Gates of Heaven. It transports the viewer into a self-contained world while referencing a broader historical context, incorporating original drive-in cartoons, web content, and national media outlet coverage.

For some, the transitions mark unavoidable progress. For others, the struggle reflects a disappearing, small-town lifestyle in contrast with the world around it. Compromises and casualties are made to survive as the drive-in theater stands against the sky as a monument to the past. But this year’s battle to survive has revived interest in a dying business. It may be the rallying cry of a dawning spring. Change and growth are inevitable; this project gave me new insight into the land I’ve called home my whole life, and creating my first documentary taught me the patience and sensitivity required in collecting and shaping an oral history. Over 40 hours of footage was shot either by me or in a two-man group over the course of the project. Unlike previous narrative work, the documentary medium provides numerous possibilities for storylines. It has been extremely difficult, yet rewarding, to overcome the obstacle of discarding the majority of my footage for the sake of a clearer picture. Similar to how I stumbled into this genre, the theme of my project is a crucial one that extends far beyond the current scope of the drive-in, and I have just begun to scratch its surface in my exploration.

The many amazing people who opened their homes and lives to me, much like the theater itself, are often taken for granted because of their rough exterior. But this film treats them with respect and reverence, and mostly eschews platitudes in exchange for quiet contemplation and candid interviews. The passion lies in the community’s convictions, and is reflected in the natural sounds and colors of the world brought into focus. The drive-in theater deserves to be preserved and advanced for the community it gathers and the nostalgia it provides, so hopefully this project helps raise awareness to those ignorant of this seminal point in time.

Open Access Agreement

On-Campus only

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License.

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