A rapidly changing environment for local screenings

GREETINGS everyone, and welcome to a very new type of Film Scene.

Each and every week for the past seven years or so, this column (first in the pages of Do Savannah and now in the pages of Connect Savannah) has served as the area’s only comprehensive preview of alternative cinema events in our area. It’s become the go-to resource for anyone who wanted to keep up with what kinds of specialty engagements of feature films, short films and High-Def digital streams of live stage performances and concerts were on the horizon – making it easier than ever before to plan one’s schedule.

However, the current health crisis has forced most all movie theaters and public gathering spaces to close down indefinitely. In the past few days alone, both the large, national Regal and AMC chains have shut down until further notice, the smaller but unusually profitable national Alamo Drafthouse chain has done the same.

Locally, all of our independent theaters like the Tybee Post and the Mars (in Springfield, Ga.) and quasi-independents the Lucas Theatre for the Arts and Trustees Theater (both managed and/or owned by SCAD) have done the same. The local organization CinemaSavannah has been forced to cancel at least its next few offerings, as they utilize the City-owned Savannah Cultural Arts Center as a venue, and that facility has closed as well.

As of now, there are only three movie theaters or cinema organizations in the Greater Savannah Area which I am aware of that are continuing to offer programming to the public, and one of those is doing so in a very nontraditional way.

First up are the area’s two vintage Drive-Ins, which are actually the perfect type of theater to ride out this ongoing pandemic, in that patrons who head to their shows can have only minimal contact with employees or strangers, and can actually remain inside their own cars the entire time, if they desire. It’s also a throwback experience to a simpler, perhaps safer and more quaint time in the American lifestyle that –in a strange sort of way given that it’s more “socially distant”– can only serve to bring families and friends closer together in a more communal entertainment experience.

In the past, we have not regularly listed both of these venues in this column, because they are at least an hour’s drive away, and technically outside of our circulation area.
However, the simple truth of the matter is that there has never been a better time to take in a Drive-In movie than now.

Don’t forget that you can sit outside your car on a folding chair and watch the films in the fresh air, if the weather’s nice. Heck, at one of these two theaters, you can opt to pay an additional fee of just a few bucks and they’ll allow you to bring in your own food, so you don’t even have to brave their concession stands!

Both venues offer two different double-features on the big screen each night they are open for a low ticket price, with one pair of films being geared toward kids and families, while the other being geared toward older teens and adults.

Look for a more detailed article on these two wonderful and quaint roadside attractions in next week’s issue, but for now, here are all the current details we have on both theaters and their schedules:

The Highway 21 Drive-in (located in Beaufort, S.C., just 1.5 miles from the Marine Corps Air Station) is about a 55-minute drive from downtown Savannah. On March 19 through 21 they’re showing the new animated action-adventure-comedy “Onward” featuring the voice talents of Chris Pratt and Julia Louis-Dreyfus, followed by Disney’s new live action-meets-CGI retelling of the classic Jack London tale of frozen adventure “Call of the Wild,” starring Harrison Ford. Then, on their second screen, they’re showing the brand-new and controversial horror-thriller “The Hunt,” followed by the newest reboot of Universal’s classic sci-fi horror tale “The Invisible Man,” starring Elisabeth Moss. Both double-features start at 8 p.m., with tickets as low as $3 for kids and only $7 for adults (that’s for both movies combined).

Meanwhile, the Jesup Drive-In is about a 65-minute drive form downtown Savannah, and on March 19 through 21, they’re showing the same pairing of “Onward” followed by “Call of the Wild” on one screen, and the slightly different combination of “The Invisible Man” followed by the recently-released big-screen reboot of the kitschy 1970s TV show “Fantasy Island” (starring Michael Peña in the role popularized by the late Ricardo Montalban), which has been given an injection of grisly, modern terror for no apparent reason. As with the Highway 21 Drive-In, both of Jesup’s double-features start at 8 p.m., and their ticket price is a fat $5 for everyone, regardless of age.

Do yourself a favor, though. Take a nap first, because these shows run late and you’ll still have to drive home safely. And, most importantly: don’t forget to bring a blanket or some cardboard to cover your car’s running lights in the front and back so they don’t shine on the screen or distract those folks in the car behind you!

The other remaining option for adventurous movie lovers is the Psychotronic Film Society of Savannah (which I founded and oversee). Virtually every Wednesday night for the past 16 years (and occasionally on Sundays as well), this ultra-DIY organization has offered public screenings of underappreciated or downright obscure feature films from around the globe at the Sentient Bean Coffeehouse on Forsyth Park.

As the Bean has opted to cancel all public events in their space for the next several weeks at least, I have tried to come up with a workaround so that the many regulars who attend most or all PFS events –as well as those who attend only occasionally, plus any newcomers to our little menagerie– can still enjoy the opportunity to see marvelous (and sometimes gloriously terrible) movies they might never have known even existed.

So, here’s the plan: The PFS is kicking off a new series of Online Viewing Parties. These virtual events will take place at 8 p.m. on Wednesday nights —the same time that we’d all normally gather at the Bean— and will be coordinated through the PFS’ Private Facebook Group (which is open to anyone, just head to facebook.com/groups/2519522234807695/ and ask to join).

The day before each screening, solely through that group, the organization will post instructions on how to either digitally stream or securely download the next evening’s movie, which folks are encouraged to make plans to watch individually from the comfort of their own homes on TV’s, laptops, or whatever works best for them, starting at 8 p.m. on each given night. Immediately following each film, in the comments section of that Facebook page, we’ll host an online discussion about the film everyone just saw. It’s the closest thing to actually being together in the same room.

There’s no charge for any of this, but the PFS hopes that since no “tickets” are required that most folks who take part will make a small, voluntary and secure electronic donation to the PFS to help them weather this difficult time for film presenters and venues. Make sense?

We’ll actually kick the whole thing off this Sunday night, March 22 at 8 p.m. with a special “Surprise Movie,” which will only be announced a few minutes ahead of time through the Private Facebook Group. We hope if you have not already become a member of that group, you’ll go ahead and do so now.

The following week, on March 25, the selection will be the “so-bad-it’s-great” 1965 B&W sci-fi clunker “Frankenstein Meets the Space Monster,” which was shot for next-to-nothing in both Miami and Puerto Rico, and is the tale of an evil Queen from another world who invades earth in a flying saucer for the purpose of kidnapping sexy young ladies to be used to repopulate her alien race, since her planet’s females have all been rendered infertile by nuclear war. There’s no actual Frankenstein monster in the film, however the “Space Monster” is played by none other than beloved oddball thespian Crispin Glover’s father Bruce (underneath a rubber and fake hair suit).

I sincerely hope you can join us for one or both viewing parties, and for a lively online discussion afterwards.

Until next week, see you “at” the movies, be kind to those around you, and don’t forget to turn off that cell phone (even if you’re watching a film at home).


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