, The Denver Post
It’s summer in Colorado, and people are eager to find safe, fun things to do in the middle of a pandemic. Enter drive-in movie theaters, a blast from the past for people to enjoy while social distancing.
From historic locations to temporary pop-ups, drive-ins have found new popularity in the age of coronavirus. But customer experiences vary at these different types of theaters, from movies and ticket prices to public health guidelines that vary from county to county.
In May, historic drive-ins across the state began to open with the green light from Gov. Jared Polis. Even people who have run these businesses for decades had to make adjustments for coronavirus.
Stephanie Webb, owner of the Holiday Twin Drive-In in Fort Collins, told The Denver Post in May that she had to cut the drive-in’s capacity in half, switch the sound to an FM transmitter and double her staff to keep premises clean.
But for communities looking to open a drive-in this summer, there are additional barriers to getting a theater off the ground.
In Loveland, Christine Forster started a “pop-up drive-in” as a six-week fundraiser for the Thompson Education Fund. Movies will screen at 9 a.m., 5 p.m. and 8 p.m. Friday, Saturday and Sunday until July 12. As a fundraiser, the Loveland Drive-In has relied on a lot of community support, Forster said, including donated LED screens that allow for showtimes during the day.
Forster said it took months to open the Loveland location. As other communities around the state have asked her how she did it, she said it took a lot of time, energy and money.
“It’s not easy to do,” Forster said. “The people who will have success… started the process really early. People who are trying to start drive-ins now are having a lot of trouble because the red tape is even thicker.”
First, Forster said, she had heaps of paperwork to comply with state, county and city COVID-19 procedures. But for her, the real challenge was getting the rights to films. Licensing companies give pop-up locations like Loveland’s last dibs on titles after they go through movie theaters and other established drive-ins. And Forster has seen rates anywhere from $100 to $1,000 per showing, which can be too expensive for a fundraiser.
Aspen has taken a similar approach for two nights of free movies, showing Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory on Friday, June 26 and Field of Dreams on Saturday, June 27. Susan Wrubel, executive and artistic director of Aspen Film, said she had less trouble getting movie rights because her organization has been in the business for years. Instead, she focused most of her energy on adhering to Aspen’s new public health restrictions, which go into effect on Friday, the first day the drive-in is open.
Each car has to be 6 feet apart; customers have to remain in their vehicle during the film; patrons must keep masks on to use the restroom; reservations and radio are all touchless; and there are no concessions on site, though customers can order ahead of time. Loveland had similar restrictions, although people can watch from outside of their cars, and they are selling food from local food trucks.
Wrubel emphasized that she relied on the city of Aspen, the chamber of commerce and other sponsors to put on the event, and she hopes to hold other drive-ins later in the summer.
“It’s been a community effort,” Wrubel said.
Moving away from traditional drive-in fare with family favorites, the Boulder International Film Festival will provide BIFF favorites and new movies every Saturday. The festival premiered drive-in style over the weekend with Two Trains Runnin’, a 2018 film centered on the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s, and this weekend, BIFF will host the first public screening of Jimmy Carter: Rock & Roll President. Unlike past years, BIFF will announce films week by week to keep looking for cutting-edge films, instead of releasing a schedule.
Kathy Beeck, co-founder and director of BIFF, said the festival has new opportunities and challenges this summer. On one hand, the organization has the chance to screen films for the first time that may be put on hold because of a “wonky market” during Covid-19. On the other hand, Beeck also had to navigate public health restrictions, from spacing cars appropriately to finding a location.
“Our energy last week was how do you run a drive-in?” Beeck said. “We figured it out, but it took a lot more than I thought it would.”
Beeck said BIFF has also found ways to support other parts of the arts scene, including live music from local bands before every show. She aims to create an experience beyond the movie, without putting people’s health at risk.
Despite the challenge, Wrubel said drive-ins are bringing people together in the pandemic.
“Everybody’s been cooped up indoors for so long,” Wrubel said. “It’s summer. People want to be outside, people are looking for activities, and the drive-in is the quickest way for people to gather.”
Here are a handful of drive-ins to check out this summer. All locations require tickets or reservations in advance, unless otherwise noted.
Pop-up drive-in movie theaters around Colorado
- Loveland Drive-In: Showing movies Friday, Saturday and Sunday at 9:30 a.m., 5 p.m. and 8:30 p.m. through July 12. Reservations are required, and tickets open on Wednesday every week. Suggested donation: $20.
- Aspen Film’s “Movies at the Meadows”: Showing Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory on June 26 and Field of Dreams on Saturday June 27. Reservations open on Monday, June 22 at noon. Free and open to the public.
- Boulder International Film Festival: Showing films on Saturday at the Boulder Municipal Airport through the end of September. Titles and tickets are announced weekly on their website and newsletter. Tickets are $30 per vehicle.
- Blue Starlite: This location in Minturn is a pop-up based out of Austin, Texas, though it’s 10 years old. Tickets start at $27 and shows run through the summer.
- Dairy Drive-In: Also in Boulder on Friday and Saturday. Upcoming movies include Stop Making Sense and John Lewis: Good Trouble. Tickets are $20 online and movies start at dark, around 8:00 p.m.
Historic Colorado drive-in movie theaters and new spots to check out
- Comanche Drive-In Theatre in Buena Vista
- Best Western Movie Manor in Monte Vista
- Holiday Twin in Fort Collins
- Star Drive-In in Montrose
- Tru-Vu Drive-In in Delta
- 88 Drive-In Theater in Commerce City
- Denver Mart Drive-In in Adams County