Sask. movie-goers soon can soon watch flicks on a couple of big screens, with drive-ins set to open

Movie buffs in a couple of rural Saskatchewan communities will soon be able to go out to catch a flick.

That’s because the province is allowing drive-in theatres to open this coming Friday.

Of the four drive-ins still operating in the province, two plan to open on May 15.

“Our theatre is celebrating 40 years this year, so we’re happy we can open up,” said Ray Boutin, who owns and operates the Prairie Dog Drive-in Theatre in Carlyle, about 180 kilometres southeast of Regina.

“And the theatre does inherently provide a natural place to safely self-isolate,” Boutin said.

“You come in with your family unit, you watch the picture in your car. You can still see others coming and going so you at least get a bit of a feeling you’re a little bit back to normality in some way shape or form.”

Boutin said there is little time to get ready but he’s confident they will have everything in place by May 15.

Ray Boutin with, from left, his daughter Janelle, his wife, Frances, and daughter Simone. They have run the Prairie Dog Drive-In since 1997. (Submitted by Ray Boutin)

Drive-ins were originally lumped into Phase 4 of the province’s reopening plan, before it was revised on Friday.

The drive-ins will be under a number of restrictions to make sure there is physical distancing.

They will be required to take precautionary measures such as ensuring vehicles are at least five metres apart, increasing cleaning and disinfection in washrooms, limiting food services to contactless pickup or delivery, and ensuring personal physical distancing.

Common areas such as picnic areas and play areas are also off limits.

Besides the Prairie Dog, the Twilite Drive-in in Wolseley, about 100 kilometres east of Regina, will also open on Friday.

“The biggest challenge probably is to make sure that everybody’s social distancing,” said Don Zaba, who owns the Twilite.

Zaba and Boutin both said they will be able to allow about 100 vehicles into their drive-ins, which is about half their capacity.

The Prairie Dog Drive-in in Carlyle, Sask., is celebrating its 40th year in business. (Submitted by Ray Boutin)

The Twilite will be offering popcorn, drinks, candy and chocolate bars for takeout only at the concession and is charging a flat $20 cash (exact change only) per vehicle.

Both drive-ins will be showing Trolls World Tour.

Zaba said he has been preparing the theatre with an eye to opening this season, so he thinks he’ll be ready.

Boutin said there’s plenty of work still to be done by Friday.

The Prairie Dog held an April drive-thru popcorn night fundraiser for the local food bank that raised $2,700.

On Saturday night, the drive-in is holding another popcorn fundraiser, with proceeds going to the local volunteer fire department and STARS air ambulance.

“It’s great to be given an opportunity to get the building up and running and get our movie legs for the season.”

Not everyone opening

But not all of the drive-in theatres will open on Friday.

The Clearwater Drive-In Theatre, just outside of Kyle, will likely not open until sometime in June, said Denise Kelk, who runs the theatre along with her husband Ken.

Kelk said they were working on the assumption that they would be allowed to reopen in the fourth phase of the province’s five-phase reopening plan. A date for that phase of the plan hasn’t been set.

And a week doesn’t give her enough time to get ready to open, especially with both her and Ken also holding down full-time jobs.

The Clearwater Drive-In near Kyle, Sask., will likely not open until sometime in June. (Submitted by Denise Kelk)

“We didn’t know whether this was going to happen in June or July or August or maybe not at all,” Kelk said.

But with a date, “we can start our planning process, which is going to involve figuring out which movies we can book, getting our staff in place, figuring out how we’re going to operate our concession… given the restrictions.”

Kelk said there are fewer movies to choose from, as the industry is basically shut down and studios have postponed and rescheduled their planned spring and summer releases.

Some studio are re-releasing older movies, “but it still requires planning,” Kelk said.

“If you’re bringing back an older movie, say from the ’90s, what’s the right movie to bring back?”

The Jubilee Drive-in Theatre at Manitou Beach is looking to open sometime in June.

Demand is high

The two drive-ins that will open on Friday expect a line-up to get in.

“There’s definitely a pent-up demand to have a social outlet to have someplace to go,” said Boutin.

“That was quite evident when we did our drive-thru popcorn night on April 25. It was just a steady flow of vehicles coming through, and people were quite cheery and ecstatic to be out and about.”

The Prairie Dog Drive-In will be open Fridays and Saturdays in May and June, and will add Sunday showings over the summer.

The Twilite Drive-in in Wolseley will begin by opening Friday to Sunday, and then expand to Thursday through Sunday in the summer.

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