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Take a trip to a nostalgic past with new drive-in experience at the Virginia Film Festival

COVID-19 pandemic sparks innovative adaptation of festival events with socially-distanced drive-in theatre screenings

Several films will only be screened through the drive-in format, including Regina King's "One Night in Miami," the festival's opening night picture.
Several films will only be screened through the drive-in format, including Regina King's "One Night in Miami," the festival's opening night picture.

This time last year, attendees of the Virginia Film Festival exited the Paramount Theatre as they discussed with enthusiasm the films they had just watched with their families. Friends and colleagues engaged in heated debate about plot lines and cinematic elements over a post-screening dinner on the Downtown Mall. The most important quality of the festival throughout its history has been its sense of community — a bonding of people through film. Amidst a pandemic with many strict safety regulations, this bonding is set to look very different this year. A feeling of togetherness is more desired than ever, and drive-in movies are the festival’s answer. 

A series of socially-distanced drive-in movie screenings will take place at two locations — Dairy Market and Morven Farm — throughout the festival, Oct. 21-25. Each vehicle is limited to five passengers, and each per-vehicle ticket is $25. The implementation of this viewing experience follows the recent success of drive-in theatres both locally and nationally. The festival will screen most of the films virtually, but there is an impressive schedule for the drive-in series covering a wide range of important topics such as social justice issues and sexuality. Both locations will screen the star-packed “One Night in Miami” on opening night, in addition to centerpiece film “Ammonite” and documentary film “MLK/FBI.” There are also two other films that will be screened at Dairy Market and Morven Farm, respectively. 

Although not the traditional popcorn-crunching movies audiences expect to watch at a drive-in, the selected films create an opportunity to experience drive-in movies in a way never seen before. Several film festivals across the country have canceled the entirety of their programming, while others have acted in a similar manner to the Virginia Film Festival, using drive-in and virtual screenings to showcase films. New regulations have been introduced as a result of the advent of these virtual festivals. The movie industry restricted several films to very limited drive-in screenings and prohibited virtual access to them. The selected films for the drive-in series are movies which would have been screened on opening and closing nights, in addition to centerpiece film slots at the Paramount Theatre. The theatre traditionally showcases the highest profile movies at the festival. 

Ticket sales prove the Charlottesville community has craved an event like this. All but two films — “MLK/FBI” and “Gunda,” both at the Morven Farm location — are sold out of tickets. According to Festival Director Jody Kielbasa, some level of the drive-in experience may remain as part of the festival in the future. He attributed some of the success of the drive-in format to a community-wide longing for a simpler time.

“There are many people in the community who look at the experience of drive-in movies really fondly and with a great deal of nostalgia,” Kielbasa said. “I think this [drive-in series] is the best thing to do to bring people together in a safe manner right now.”

There will be several rules enforced by event staff to ensure the drive-in series is safe for all attendees. Festival staff mapped out the car capacities at both locations and reduced them to ensure a six-feet distance between all cars during the screenings. Additionally, it is recommended that all participants attend only with those in their immediate quarantine circle and remain in their car during the screening. All event staff will wear masks for the duration of each screening, and attendees will be required to wear masks when leaving their car to go to the bathroom or communicate with event staff. 

More information about etiquette and regulations for the drive-in experience can be found on the Drive-In Movies FAQ. The remaining available tickets at the Morven Farm location can be purchased on the drive-in page as well. No tickets will be available for sale at the drive-in itself. A full program of the virtually screened films, as well as passes and other festival information can be found on the program website at