Mill Valley Film Festival introduces drive-in movies


Dresden Calabrese

Cars fill the Lagoon Park parking lot to watch The Comeback Trail on Oct. 12

For 43 years, the Mill Valley Film Festival (MVFF) has opened its doors to present over 50 films to the public. This year from Oct. 8-18, the festival showcased movies from 40 different countries, ranging in genre from dramas to documentaries. 

However, mandatory COVID-19 precautions caused the festival to alter its in-theater viewing tradition, and instead, for the first time ever, the company introduced drive-in movies. Audience members gathered in an open lot that holds up to 200 cars at Lagoon Park, San Rafael. They tuned into a radio station for audio and viewed the movie from the seclusion of their own cars.

Despite the inconvenience of COVID-19, Theater Operations Manager Kailyn Ryan, was determined to help the MVFF adapt to circumstances. “Because of Covid we’ve had to transition into doing a drive-in theater so that we could still bring people outside of their homes for the cinema,” Ryan said.

Audience members were pleased with the execution of the festival, but felt that paying customers could have been better directed on what to do. “The drive-in was definitely fun but there were no instructions, so it would’ve been helpful to know what to do. The radio sound in the car kept automatically turning off because you had to turn your car off,” audience member Susan Wyman said.

The drive-in movie was a smashing success, as it attracted more audience members than previous years. The typical headcount for ticket holders is around 300. This year, that number has almost doubled.

“We own the Rafael Theater and Sequoia Theater that both have 300 person capacity, but we can’t fit 300 cars here. Here, there are an average of two to three people per car within the 200 cars,” said Ryan. In total, an average of 400-600 people were able to attend each movie. 

For the past seven months, COVID-19 has forced Bay Area residents to stream movies solely from their televisions at home. The festival has been one of the only ways to watch movies on the big screen since the beginning of quarantine in March. “The Mill Valley Film Festival is a safe way to come together in a communal setting and watch movies,” Ryan said. 

Audience members acknowledged that the festival was a great experience amidst months of quarantine. “It’s a unique chance to experience a film festival that’s close to home. It’s really wonderful,” Wyman said.