“AT THE DRIVE-IN”— Facing the Future

“At The Drive-In”

Facing the Future

Amos Lassen

Alexander Monelli’s documentary “At the Drive-In” captures the essence and atmosphere of a drive-in movie theater and those who bring it to life. His original plan to look at the drive-in industry changed when he met the crew of the Mahoning Drive-In in Lehighton, Pennsylvania. The long-standing establishment, like most theaters has been trying to stay fresh and relevant and played first-run movies for as long as they could. Things became challenging for Jeff and his team at the advent of digital projection when distributors were phasing out 35mm prints. Jeff was faced with the dilemma in that he realized that he could not afford to buy  a digital projector and  along with Matt and Virgil, decided to program retro film screenings, which would allow them to obtain 35mm film prints. However, what he could not know was whether crowds would come.

 

The staff of the Mahoning Drive-In work for free and choose to make this a part of their lives because they love movies and appreciate old slasher films and comedies, which can’t often be screened in mainstream theaters. “At the Drive-In” is the story on the Mahoning community who refer to themselves as a family.

The film is both a celebration and a eulogy but it’s without a doubt something every film lover should see. It is not just a documentary about a theater — it’s a story about friendship, family, life and passion. The Mahoning Drive-In Theater sits at the gateway to the Poconos about a half-hour drive off the Pennsylvania Turnpike and has been in operation since 1949.  The theater ran first-run movies up until about 2014 when movie studios began eliminating 35 mm presentations and offering their films exclusively in a digital format.

This mean that a digital projector was a requited purchase putting the owner, Jeff, into a quandary.  Audience turnout was low and acquiring a digital projector was out of the question. Two film enthusiasts Matt and Virgil, were able to convince Jeff to focus exclusively on retro movies that could be shown in all their 35 mm glory. This gives a new angle to the story in that aside from the story of this theater, this is the story of the blossoming friendship between Jeff, Matt and Virgil as they work to keep the theater operating amid very real financial concerns.  While Jeff, Matt and Virgil are the key figures in this story, we also learn about other film aficionados who volunteer their time to work at the theater simply for their love of the theater — or in one woman’s case, love for Jeff.

We meet some of the fans who frequent the theater.  Some live close by, but one enthusiast comes all the way from Hartford, CT to watch movies and volunteer behind the counter.  Additionally, Monelli introduces us to personalities and characters who are bound by their love of movies and their love for The Mahoning Drive-In Theater.

The film captures what makes a theater like The Mahoning Drive-In Theater so special.  Watching this, we get a true sense of the devotion that these people have for movies and particularly this theater. 

SPECIAL FEATURES

  Over 17 minutes of deleted scenes

  Cast Commentary #1: Featuring Director Alexander Monelli, Mahoning Drive-in owners Jeff Mattox, Matt McClanahan, Virgil Cardamone and cast.

  Cast Commentary #2: Featuring Director Alexander Monelli, Mahoning Drive-in owner Jeff Mattox and cast.

  Director Commentary #3: Featuring Director Alexander Monelli and special guest Robert Humanick

  Q&A from a screening at the Alamo Drafthouse in Yonkers, NY (30 mins)

  Original Theatrical Trailer

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