“Christmas at the Drive-In” is coming

A scene from Christmas at the Drive-In, copied from the Great American Family channel web site. The outdoor concession stand pictured in the background doesn’t fill me with hope for an accurate ozoner depiction.

Christmas is a time where there typically isn’t a whole lot of drive-in theater news to report. There are scattered holiday markets or expanded flea markets, but that seems mundane. I found something else that sounds odd, but at least it might be interesting.

The Great American Family channel premiered an original movie, Christmas at the Drive-In, on Thanksgiving weekend this year. (It’s showing again on Thursday, Dec. 8, and probably again later in the season.) The synopsis says the movie is about a woman who returns to her home town, Chesterfield NY, to save its drive-in theater by helping it acquire historic preservation status or something like that. She becomes frenemies with the new owner, who just inherited the Chesterfield Drive-In from his late father. Could there be holiday romance brewing? Will they need to work together to save the beloved drive-in?

(I confess that I don’t understand the allure of this kind of Christmas movie, and I especially don’t understand why dozens of them flood the airwaves every holiday season. Is there some special factor about them, or are they strictly for folks who enjoy reading lots of romance novels? Not that there’s anything wrong with that. But I digress.)

I was surprised at the amount of detail I could find about its shooting locations at The Cinemaholic site, though it left me with more questions than answers. All of the photography took place in northern Ontario in September 2022. Most of it was at North Bay, on the shore of Lake Nipissing, with some scenes shot in Sudbury. Those are great places to get cold in early autumn, but what’s missing from those locations is anything that would look like a potentially historic drive-in theater. The Horizon Drive-In travels northern Ontario with a pop-up screen that it inflates at various locations, but surely they wouldn’t use that, would they?

I haven’t seen the movie. I saw a 30-second trailer on YouTube; there are issues. From glimpses in the background of the small viewing field, it looks like they really are using that inflatable screen. A photo at the official movie web site shows the protagonists in front of an outdoor concession stand. I know that such outdoor stands used to exist, but it’s much more common for even historic drive-ins to serve up their snacks indoors.

What I find ironic is that, although the real town of Chesterfield NY never had a drive-in, right across Lake Champlain in Colchester VT, the Sunset Drive-In has been active since 1948 and is still open. That would have been the perfect stand-in for a fictional historic drive-in; too bad it’s more expensive to film in Vermont than in Ontario.

Anyway, if you want to see a modern-day depiction of what someone thinks drive-ins are like, feel free to tune in this season.

Video: Kingston Family FunWorld Sold

CKWS, Kingston ON’s News Leader, reported some sad news yesterday evening. The Kingston Family FunWorld, which includes a three-screen drive-in, has been sold, and the story sounds like the new buyer isn’t interested in the place for its amusement facilities.

The drive-in has been around for “almost five decades,” according to the CKWS story, owned and operated by the Wannemacher family. Under Dan Wannemacher’s guidance, they added a go-kart track, batting cages, and mini golf. But Dan passed away suddenly three years ago, and the family says it’s time to move on.

The drive-in will stay open through Sept. 1. “The best thing for me is knowing how much this place impacted a lot of Kingstonians and I think we’ll always be in peoples’ hearts,” said Trish Wannemacher.

I wish I could link to the video, which shows a few glimpses of what might be the FunWorld’s final days, but you can watch it here. If you want to see the whole article, then you know you need to go read it!

End Of A Dream: Havelock Closes

The Havelock Family Drive-In screen at night with cars

Photo from the Havelock Facebook page

The Havelock Family Drive-In just west of Havelock ON was always a labor of love for Gordon Henderson, a part-time gig that he hoped would grow into a full-sized retirement. Last month, that hope expired when Henderson announced on Facebook, “Well it’s official. The Havelock Family Drive In is officially closed. The property has sold.” Apparently the buyer won’t be operating a drive-in there.

Henderson built the Havelock in 2010, and said he had wanted to do that ever since he was a teenager. I mentioned that plus a lot more when I stopped by during my virtual drive-in-a-day odyssey in 2017. In retrospect, that was just before things started going south.

According to Kawartha Now, Henderson launched a GoFundMe campaign that fall seeking $75,000, stating that he was “in a very hard situation” and “faced with the devastating news that I am in jeopardy of losing my lifelong dream my beloved drive-in.” It raised less than $5,000. The Havelock was dark for most of 2018, eventually opening for a few weekends in the fall. And now it’s gone for good.

Let these drive-in closures remind you to seize the opportunity whenever you get a chance to take in a night under the stars. Buy some popcorn and sodas, and thank the proprietors for being there. Like everything else, it’s always temporary, and you never really know how long you’ve got.