Park yourself at the drive-in for a night under the stars

MASSENA, N.Y. - There's still the sound and smell of popcorn popping, the movies are the latest Hollywood blockbusters and there's not one bad seat in the place.

But on top of all that there are children playing catch with their parents, the intermission includes a mad-dash to the washroom and bug spray is a prerequisite on a night like this.

You're not back in time - you're in New York State, and you're at the drive-in.

It's been more than 15 years since the Cornwall area saw the last of the classic old drive-ins when The Colonial closed up in the Ingleside area. Now, if one wants to enjoy a movie under the stars from the sanctity of the back seat, they have to travel to the Kingston area.

But if they have a passport, movie-goers can slip over to Massena, N.Y. to the 56 Auto Drive-In.

The venerable drive-in theatre opened for the season on the weekend, and despite some technical glitches that delayed the start of the first film for nearly an hour, the night was completed with few hiccups.

“We come quite a bit,” said Adam Love, who took a break from throwing a baseball around with his kids to answer a few questions. “Instead of sitting in a movie theatre you can enjoy things just like this.”

Claude and Michelle St-Denis, along with their daughter Stephanie, brought lawn chairs and sat out in front of their vehicle while a small radio transmitted the dialogue and explosions while Ironman 3 played on the big screen.

“The cost is reasonable, especially if you have a family,” said Michelle. “And the kids, you can basically let them do what they want.”

It's less than $10 a person for two features at 56 Auto.

Claude, a transplanted Cornwall resident, said the attraction of the drive-in is simple.

“Sitting outside to watch a movie is great,” he said.

Jeff Szot, owner of 56 Auto Drive-In, said families are the backbone of his business.

“It's more family, but combined with a bit of nostalgia,” he said. “People are trying to find something to do together as a family, and it seems there are fewer opportunities for families to get together to do those types of things.”

That's not to say the drive-in theatre is completing isolated from keeping up with the times.

56 Auto still shows its movies via a massive projector, with massive spinning platters that contain thousands of feet of film. Other theatres, specifically traditional movie houses, have gone digital, where movies are saved on a hard drive as opposed to film.

56 Auto, like other drive-ins, likely have another year or so to convert to digital or face the prospect of not having material to show.

Bernadette Jenkins, Szot's partner, said the drive-in will make the transition in time for next year.

The reason for the conversion is pretty simple: the cost of creating a digital copy of a movie is $50-$100 compared with up to $1,500 for a 35 mm feature film. Digital projection already has swept through most indoor theaters, and drive-in owners knew the availability of movies on film would soon drop drastically.

Some drive-ins in the U.S. are turning to fundraising campaigns and charities to find the dollars necessary to make the conversion.

“Our generation grew up going to drive-ins,” said Jenkins. “They're still happy there is a glimpse of the past.”

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