DIFF Revives the Drive-In Movie Trend With a New Summer Series

Following the cancellation of the Dallas International Film Festival in April, Dallas Film CEO Johnathan Brownlee knew he had to pivot. Drive-in movies became the solution in a world of COVID—but Brownlee sees the trend continuing long after the dust settles.

The Dallas International Film Festival (DIFF) is restoring an old trend in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic in an effort to bring people together through the big screen.

As an alternative to watching movies indoors, DIFF is presenting a drive-in movie series south of downtown Dallas at Four Corners Brewing Co. 

“I’ve always loved drive-ins, and so I think there may be a resurgence of this,” Johnathan Brownlee, CEO and President of Dallas Film and the executive director of DIFF, told Dallas Innovates. “Anytime you can get a whole bunch of people together outside watching a movie is a good time.”

The series began with a love for drive-ins and a 10-year friendship. Brownlee had actually been discussing the idea with longtime friends and founders of Four Corners Brewing Co. way before the COVID-19 pandemic.

After the cancellation of the Dallas International Film Festival in late April, Brownlee decided that the safest way people could watch films as a community was through a drive-in series.  

“We still wanted to show content, and obviously streaming is great, but we really thrive on putting people together and having this collective experience on big screens,” Brownlee says. “The only way to do that safely right now is in something like a drive-in. In some ways, the epidemic has helped us get drive-ins started even quicker than we expected, so it has kind of worked out.”

While streaming has become an influential component in the film industry, people are still interested in seeing films in a communal setting. With this in mind, Bronwlee has used an old trend to help the industry continue to move forward. 

“We know through statistics that certain people always want to go to the cinema and see films on a big screen, while others want to wait until it comes out on streaming,” Brownlee says. “That’s why there is a trend called day and date release, which is when you release it in the theaters and online the same day.”

Brownlee is predicting that the drive-in trend will continue long after the pandemic settles down. In fact, DIFF has already received calls from the City of Dallas and Love Field Airport to host additional days. 

“We might even do more each month as we grow this,” Brownlee says. “It’s clearly something that is gaining some traction.”

As the series continues, Brownlee is looking toward the future and the likeness of a future film festival. But, without a vaccine, Brownlee feels that crowded rooms packed with movie goers will not help the safety of the community. 

“My guess is that we won’t have anything like a Dallas International Film Festival the way it looked like before—at least until next year,” Brownlee says. “The drive-ins and the virtual cinema pieces we are currently doing online are going to sort of replace that for this year, really until we have some sort of a vaccine or a way to really control this.”

You can purchase a ticket for three documentaries here from Dallas Film and Magnolia Pictures. Go here to stay up-to-date on the DIFF Drive-In schedule.

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