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At the Drive-in

August 5, 2018 - Filmmaker Alexander Monelli turns his focus on the Mahoning Drive-in Theater near Lehighton, Pennsylvania and on the cast of characters working hard to keep it running in the digital age. The documentary features several clips from news stories done by WNEP about the drive-in's dire financial straits. FULL DISCLOSURE: Monelli licensed these clips from WNEP with help from me. Also, I grew up near the Mahoning Drive-in and saw several movies there as a child.

The documentary is essentially a "year in the life" of the Mahoning Drive-in. That year, 2016, happens to be one that could very well be make or break for place as studios began offering first-run movies only in a digital format. As the opening montage of news clips establishes, the folks running the drive-in did not have the money to buy a digital projector. All they have was what they always had: a projector that runs movies on 35mm film.

Jeff is one of three main "characters" in the documentary. He owns the drive-in (but not the land it sits on!) and runs the place as a labor of love. He has the technical know-how to keep the old films running. But the critical spark comes from Matt and Virgil. These two young friends share Jeff's love of movies and know how to spread the word through social media.

Overall review: **** I'm going to give it four stars, rounding up from 3.5. I really enjoyed this documentary. As noted above, Jeff, Matt and Virgil are real characters. Their passion and personalities really shine through. So do several other folks who share their passion for movies in different ways to help the drive-in build a community and an audience for a new generation. I loved watching these people work.

My only gripe – and maybe it's only a gripe because I know the backstory – is that the documentary didn't mention the backstory. WNEP started doing stories on the drive-in a few years before 2016. During that time, someone other than Jeff was running the theater. That person got "help" from a man who seemed to make a habit of promising to revitalize drive-ins and then failing to deliver on those promises. After that, the drive-in entered a nationwide contest in an effort to win a digital projector. While the opening montage uses clips from news stories about these issues, it never spells them out. Doing so may have made the efforts of Jeff, Matt and Virgil to save the Mahoning Drive-in even more worthy of applause.

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"I don't take the movies seriously, and anyone who does is in for a headache." »» Bette Davis