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ROCKPORT, Maine ― Organizers of the Camden International Film Festival hope to build a drive-in movie theater in Rockport to serve as a venue for its 2020 festival this fall. If Rockport officials approve the plan they’ll also screen bi-weekly outdoor films there throughout the summer.
The idea for a drive-in was floated this spring, when the COVID-19 pandemic fundamentally forced cinemas and theaters to close in an attempt to stop the spread of the new virus.
“What we really wanted to do was create that nostalgic moment that people have kind of forgotten about but have really profound memories around, which was a drive-in movie theater,” said Ben Fowlie, co-founder of the Points North Institute which organizes the Camden International Film Festival.
Since 2005, the Camden International Film Festival has hosted a weekend of documentary film screenings at several opera houses and theaters in Camden, Rockland and Rockport. While the festival isn’t scheduled until October, organizers knew they likely wouldn’t be able to hold the festival indoors as planned.
Over the past two months, the organization has been hosting weekly screenings and filmmaker Q&A’s online, but Fowlie said an online forum just isn’t the same experience as bringing people together to watch a film.
So how could that be done while maintaining safe social distancing?
“We’re all about bringing communities together collectively to experience the power of storytelling. It’s hard to do that when theaters, opera houses and venues are closed for an undetermined amount of time,” Fowlie said. “Our initial thought was, well, why not a drive-in movie theater.”
With no existing drive-in theater in the area, the Points North Institute is undertaking the challenge of building one from scratch.
The former Rockland Drive-In Theater, on Route 1 in Rockport, closed in the 1980s. The site is now home to Plants Unlimited, so reviving a theater there wasn’t an option.
But Fowlie saw a promising opportunity as he drove past the site of the former Rockport Elementary School, which has since been demolished.
The Points North Institute is proposing to build a 30-by-50-foot structure that would house a screen that could be erected and removed as needed. An existing parking lot provides a flat surface where cars could face the screen.
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The Rockport Selectboard reviewed the initial plan last week and will take up the proposal again next week. Fowlie said he has been working with police, fire and code enforcement officials to make sure the space would be safe.
In the 15 years since the Points North Institute was founded, Fowlie said he has never “felt an idea resonate” as strongly with the local community.
“Every organization is facing their own challenges [due to the pandemic],” Fowlie said. “Like everybody, we have to adapt and try to find ways to bring some brightness to the community during these times. If this is our mark on this time frame, that’s great.”
Across the country, the concept of drive-in movie theaters is becoming more and more popular as people crave the nostalgic experience, Fowlie said. In Maine, there are seven drive-ins scattered across the state, including two that have opened in the last five years.
As a child, Fowlie ― who grew up in Knox County ― fondly remembers going to the Rockland Drive-In Theater, as well as other drive-in theaters in southern Maine
While it doesn’t fit into the documentary-centric mission of the Points North Institute, Fowlie said if the Rockport drive-in proposal becomes reality, it’s his dream to screen the movie Goonies there, because why not?
“As a kid, the sheer size of [a drive-in theater] made me feel like it was a treat,” Fowlie said. “Everyone remembers those moments in their lives where they were really just blown away by the immersive quality of a giant screen and a collective viewing.”
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