Honda Wants to Save Your Local Drive-In Theater

A lot of people, like myself, have written a fair amount this summer about the impending loss of drive-in movie theaters come January.

As studios complete the switch to digital projection, some drive-in movie theaters could be left behind despite their best efforts. What is at risk is an important aspect to both American history and film viewing. Honda recognized the issue, after visiting many drive ins at the beginning of the summer, and the company came up with their own sort-of solution. 

Project Drive-In is a contest any drive-in around the country can enter. People vote for their favorite drive-in movie theaters and the top five vote getters will be awarded digital projectors from Honda (cost: roughly $80,000).

Honda's Project Drive-In web site gives people the option to learn more about the issue of fading drive ins, tour existing ones and vote for their favorite. The voting ends Monday Sept. 9, so the sooner you decide to take part, the better. People can vote once a day through both text and their Internet browsers.

"Project Drive In really is our theater's only ticket to another year," says Ry Russell who owns the Saco Drive-In theater. The Maine movie house is the second oldest drive-in theater in the country and can celebrate its 75th year in 2014 if it places in the Honda competition's top five.

Most drive-in theaters are struggling to make the digital conversion because they are not open year round and thus cannot raise the funds. Many have turned to asking for donations or running raffles. The Saco Drive In, for instance, has held special community events like yard sales, comedy shows and other innovative ideas to raise money.

"We've had to be innovative because I know everyone that runs drive in theaters, including myself, feels that the experience of the drive in is quintessentially American and an important aspect of the film viewing experience," Russell says about his theater's fundraising methods.

Honda will get a marketing boost from the contest. The five winning theaters will exclusively advertise for the car maker. Not a bad deal if you ask me, especially when one considers the stakes for an American movie-going institution. At the end of the year there is expected to be less than 100 drive in theaters still in existence in North America.


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