Digital killed the drive-in

South Africa’s last drive-in cinema has shut its gates as the rise of digital film chokes old-tech facilities.

Johannesburg drive-ins have shut down one-by-one over the past few years, having served their time since the early 60s, battling advances in cinema technology, and the convenience and safety offered by shopping malls.

Ster-Kinekor drive-in, Velskoen, located in Randburg, closed down in 2012 after its last show (Men in Black III), following the closing down of another popular Joburg drive-in, Top Star, in 2009.

According to Menlyn Park management, as was the case with Velskoen and Top Star, the move to shut down the NuMetro movie destination – which had been in operation for 13 years – boiled down to “technical constraints”.

“All cinemas in the country have switched over to a digital system in the past year…The drive-in still functions on a film-projection system and the availability of these reels is extremely scarce,” Menlyn Park’s marketing manager, Andrea de Wit told eNCA.

The management team added that, due to the distance and the size being projected in the drive-in cinemas, digital projection is not an option.

“This has been the case nationwide. We understand the importance of the drive-in and the bond with our patrons. Unfortunately this is the reality of the situation.”

Additionally, Menlyn noted that, due to the “serious shortage” of movies appearing on 35mm projector reel, it had become increasingly difficult to source blockbuster films to show at the drive-in.

Before shutting down at the end of February, the cinema showed Oscar-winning space sci-fi thriller, Gravity, and Jennifer Anniston-led comedy, We’re The Millers.

However, before the final screening, the only films available to show were relatively unknown British comedy, I Give It a Year, and 2012’s spy-versus-spy rom-com, This Means War.

Due to the final two nights of showing at the drive-in being free, the outdoor cinema was filled to capacity as people came to bid the facility farewell.

Typically, a trip to the drive-in would have cost patrons R65, with the freedom to bring their own snacks and foodstuffs.

In comparison, conventional cinema-goers pay adult prices of R53.00 to see a 2D movie, and R68.00 to see movies in 3D.

According to Menlyn Park, the drive-in space will be re-purposed for another “first” for Pretoria in recreation and entertainment, set to launch in the second half of 2014.

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Digital killed the drive-in