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Nostalgia for Outdoor Movies Returns in Washington with Open Air Cinema's Inflatable Screens
por Caleb Mitchell
The bigness of the screen, the openness of the summer sky, the privacy of your car. Admit it, there was something sexy about the drive-in movie theater. Good luck trying to find outdoor movies in the Washington area today. Just two remain - Bengie's in Baltimore and Family Drive-In near Winchester.
Hoping people will want to recapture the days of the drive-in in their own back yards, Utah-based Open Air Cinema recently launched its CineBox Home outdoor theater system. Starting at $1,499, kits come with a 10-foot inflatable movie screen, DVD player, digital projector, sound mixer and other necessary accouterments.
Thinking of entertaining the whole neighborhood? The system with a 16-foot screen costs $3,559. If you already have all the electronic components, you can buy the inflatable movie screens alone, which cost upward of $399.
"Americans love the outdoors, the cinema and their back yards," says Stuart Farmer, chief executive of Open Air Cinema. "When you combine all three, you can have a personal drive-in."
Ironically, home video helped speed the demise of the drive-in, according to Driveintheater.com, a Web site devoted to the history and appreciation of the drive-in. Cable TV and VCRs enabled movie-watchers to pick what they wanted to watch, when they wanted to watch it.
And for those who thought the drive-in was a place to, well, you know, be ALONE, the rec room (or the bedroom) was much more private than a Ford Mustang.
At the peak of the drive-in's popularity in the late '50s, there were about 4,000 locations nationwide. By 1990, that number was about 1,000. Today, fewer than 500 remain.
However, there is evidence that many folks are nostalgic for the concept. Screen on the Green - free outdoor movies on the Mall - is up and running again this year, as are outdoor film festivals and showings in Bethesda, Rockville, Shirlington and Crystal City. Columbia, Md., shows family-friendly flicks such as "Charlotte's Web" and "Hairspray" on Mondays and Fridays at 8:30 p.m. at the Town Center.
Open Air Cinema's products have been featured at outdoor movie showings for the public, including the Tribeca and Sundance Film Festivals. It was a natural evolution to go from a commercial product to a home-use product, Mr. Farmer says.
The screen, which weighs about 8 pounds when not inflated, folds down into a carrying case so it can be stored when not in use. The electric fan blows air into the inflatable, so the screen just takes about 30 seconds to set up, he says.
Mr. Farmer sees a future for the product beyond just backyard movies.
"You can take it to the beach or set it up by the pool," he says. "You can have an outdoor Wii bowling tournament. All these different things make this the evolution of the drive-in."