Over 250 cars tuned into station 88.1 FM last Tuesday, July 31, for the first ever drive-in movie screening on Martha’s Vineyard. A 40-foot inflatable screen projected the film “E.T. the Extra Terrestrial” under a sea of stars in the field outside the Ag Hall.
Crowds huddled under blankets in truck beds, set up chairs on top of cars, and had picnics in the grass. A steady line streamed out from Island food vendors like the Art Cliff Food Truck and Not Your Sugar Mamas. The film screened for about two hours. The summer air was warm, and the sky was alive.
It was thanks to two Island nonprofits — the Martha’s Vineyard Film Festival (MVFF) and the Martha’s Vineyard Agricultural Society.
“It’s something we’ve been trying to do for years,” said Thomas Bena, founder of the MVFF.
The event was a fundraiser for the two groups. Tickets were $60 per car, which included five people, and $15 per walk-in. Neither group is expecting to make much of a profit this first go-around, and they’re OK with that.
“If you factored in the amount of time spent on the project, it wasn’t much of a moneymaker,” Brian Athearn, Ag Society president, said. “Part of it was an initial investment in future years, and to prove to ourselves and to the community that we could do it.”
Both groups see this as becoming an annual event, and a worthwhile fundraiser. So far, feedback’s been positive.
“We had a few hiccups,” Athearn said. “Some issues with line of sight, and a technical error with the projector, but most people didn’t seem to care. I’ve gotten emails, texts, and calls, and it’s all been overwhelmingly positive.”
According to the two groups, more goes into planning a pop-up drive-in than one might expect.
“Before we even talked about renting a screen or food vendors,” Athearn said, “we had to go to the board of selectmen, the zoning board, the Vineyard Conservation Society, building inspector, board of health, our neighbors …”
“And that was just for the venue,” MVFF managing director Hilary Dreyer said. “We do outdoor screenings a lot, but that’s only one portion of what a drive-in is. We had to do a decent amount of research, map out our venue, approximate car lengths …”
“But no matter how much planning you do, you have to make adjustments on the fly,” MVFF artistic director Brian Ditchfield said. “We learned a lot this first year. We learned that maybe a 40-ft. screen isn’t big enough, which is great to know. We can make it better next time.”
Ditchfield predicted there were about 1,100 people at the event, and staffers were turning away cars by 8 pm showtime. So why the 1982 sci-fi drama? The MVFF and Ag Society made a long list of classic films, then polled each other, friends, and family.
“The film is engaging for everyone,” Dreyer said. “Little kids, families, friends — everyone can enjoy it.”
In the opening scene of “E.T.”, the sky is clear, a little cloudy, colorful, and nearing sunset. Athearn noted it nearly matched the sky at the Ag Hall that night. “It was a nice harkening to the movie,” he said.
Ditchfield agreed: “I know I looked at the stars a bit differently that night.”
This was the second fundraising collaboration between the two groups. The first was an early June screening of “A Painter Who Farms,” a film about local artist and farmer Allen Whiting.
“When you think of the Film Festival, you don’t think of the Ag Society,” Bena said. “But we’re finding our missions align: We gather community. You feel that spirit in a space like the Ag Hall — which essentially, if you ask me, is the heart of the Vineyard.”