Wednesday July 31, 2013

NORTHFIELD, MASS. -- The Northfield Drive-In opened for business on Aug. 3, 1948, the same year "Joan of Arc," starring Ingrid Bergman, made its debut on the silver screen.

And owner Mitchell Shakour, whose family bought the place in 1968, plans to mark the 65th anniversary by offering a promotion and delivering some special news this Saturday.

The weekend celebration, which will be held rain or shine, will include movie poster giveaways and a triple feature of first-run movies -- "The Smurfs 2," "The Wolverine" and "Grown Ups 2." More importantly, Shakour and his family plan to make an announcement concerning the future of the drive-in -- which straddles the state line of New Hampshire and Massachusetts -- and whether it will be able to continue in business.

Gates open at 6:30 p.m. and the first movie starts at 8. The announcement will be made during an intermission.

The drive-in's future has looked questionable in recent years as the equipment once standard in the industry quickly started becoming obsolete when most movie companies switched from film to digital media.

"This is totally the last year for film," Shakour said. But conversion for theaters comes with a lot of work and a hefty price tag.

Shakour said the United Drive-In Theatre Owners Association projects the average cost for an outdoor theater to go digital -- with all the new equipment and technology -- is roughly $200,000. He said Monday he is still conducting research (calling other drive-in owners and calling digital projection companies), but thought the chances of going digital were 50-50. If he decides not to take the leap, this would be the final summer of The Northfield Drive-In.

"Even if we don't, it's quite an accomplishment to have gone this long," he said.

Last August, Shakour told the Reformer there was just one movie company in North America still making film. Now, he said, the only option is to purchase film from Brazil.

Digital projection is also necessary to capitalize on a resurgence of drive-ins that is sweeping the nation. According to Shakour, there were as many as 6,000 drive-in theaters in the United States in the 1960s -- and now just 358 remain. However, business is picking up for the small group that has survived, as the seductive nostalgia of classic Americana draws in people looking for a taste of yesteryear.

Shakour said business has been good this summer, though some heavy rain has dampened what could have been larger audiences. He said the precipitation may have prevented one or two thousand vehicle from driving to his theater this season, which lasts from May to Labor Day.

Domenic Poli can be reached at dpoli@reformer.com, or 802-254-2311, ext. 277. You can follow him on Twitter @dpoli_reformer.