A whirl of a projector and the crackling of a radio piped in from a transmitter filled the gravel M.V. Ice Arena parking lot. Families and friends gathered in their cars to stare up at a 30-foot screen. For a moment, moviegoers were transported back to Amity Island in 1975, when the only worry was a great white shark prowling in the ocean. Summertime is in full swing on-Island, and the Vineyard summer drive-in is a don’t-miss event.
The drive-in premiered its first film, “John Lewis: Good Trouble,” on Wednesday, and brought back the classic “Jaws” on Thursday. “Jaws” sold out within hours of release.
“I am looking forward to having families out enjoying each other and enjoying their friends in a safe way, to watch a movie like ‘Jaws,’ which a lot of these children have never seen before,” Martha’s Vineyard YMCA executive director Jill Robbie said.
The drive-in is a product of the longstanding partnership between the YMCA of Martha’s Vineyard and the Martha’s Vineyard Film Festival (MVFF). “It was a really great team effort where we got together with the folks at the YMCA who were looking to fulfill programming over the summer, and of course, we were looking to do the same,” MVFF programming director Brian Ditchfield said.
This drive-in is looking a bit different from MVFF drive-ins in the past. Moviegoers are required to stay in or on their vehicles throughout the film. No food or drinks are sold at the event, and cars are spaced out by six feet. In order to follow state COVID-19 regulations, only 50 cars can attend each showing.
“I am excited to give families an opportunity to have a safe and fun activity,” Ditchfield said. “I know from having kids that we want to get out, but we want to get out safely. This drive-in is a great opportunity to do that.”
The MVFF was preparing for its 20th annual film festival in March and looking forward to a full summer of programming before the pandemic. When they were forced to adjust their plans, the idea for a summer drive-in began to form.
“When the pandemic hit, we were looking for how we could continue to fulfill our mission, and a drive-in felt like a really great solution,” Ditchfield said. “They are beginning to pop up all over the country. We are having a drive-in revolution.”
The drive-in is a pay-what-you-can event. Both the MVFF and YMCA development teams worked together to raise funds for all the drive-in equipment and to supplement ticket costs. This will allow for the event to be accessible to anyone who wants to enjoy a movie, regardless of financial situation.
So far, the pay-what-you-can setup has been a success. “We are really pleased,” Ditchfield said. “Given the economic situation in our country, we just wanted to make sure it was possible for anyone to come. It really seems like those who can pay are, and it’s been heartwarming, to say the least.”
The organizations will also be sharing profits with a rotating list of other Island organizations and nonprofits. Currently, 10 percent of the ticket sales are going to the Island Food Pantry.
“We know times are tough here on the Vineyard, and we want to do our part to spread the love,” Ditchfield said.
The MVFF will release the following week’s films every Friday. The drive-in will feature live guests and panels that will speak about the film in person or over Zoom. They are planning to show films through August, and are opened to expanding their schedule if there is a demand. Their first four films sold out in days.
“It feels good to have people at the Y again,” Robbie said. “Even though we can’t be inside, a lot of these people here tonight are the people we serve in our community.”
The MVFF is responsible for choosing the films shown at the drive-in. Because distributors are not putting out new films, the drive-in will feature classics, family films, and documentaries.
“It is important to recognize that people want a chance to get away from it all and have some laughs and entertainment,” Ditchfield said. “We really see an opportunity to provide that. Yet every Wednesday we will be programing documentaries, so we will also be able to address the issues of our time, which is really important considering all that’s going on in our world.”
The MVFF and YMCA hope that this drive-in will become a staple for the summer and bring some normalcy back to moviegoers’ lives.
“I want the drive-in here to be something people remember 2020 for in a positive way,” Robbie said.
With the success of the first two films, the drive-in is looking forward to continuing to provide a good experience for moviegoers all summer.
Visit tmvff.org for the summer drive-in schedule.