Library, Chamber and community partners come together for Drive-In experience

Ken Kellar

If you’ve been missing the movie theatre experience, some local volunteers and organizations are coming together to offer a retro way to get your movie fix.
The Fort Frances Public Library Technology Centre and the Fort Frances Chamber of Commerce, with support from several other local organizations, have teamed up to offer drive-in movie nights from the library parking lot beginning in August and tentatively scheduled to run each Friday evening until the end of October.
Nolan Faragher works at the library as the Assistant Programming student, and it was initially his idea to create the drive-in theatre.
“[The idea] started in March,” Faragher explained.
“It was because March Break wouldn’t be happening because the world was coming to a close, and my favourite thing to do on my free time is to go watch movies. I knew the Falls used to have a drive-in years and years ago, and I wondered why we didn’t have one here.”
Faragher has worked at the library for the past three years, but began in his new position just before July, which is when he approached Heather Johnson, the executive director at the Chamber of Commerce with the idea.
“I met Heather in the first days of my new position here, and she had mentioned she wanted to do Quest for the Best here in the parking lot,” Faragher explained.
“So I thought who else better to contact, because she had obviously thought about having a drive-in menu. The next week we had a meeting and that’s when we started planning out how to get the wheels in motion.”
Johnson said she and the Chamber board were excited about the idea when Faragher approached them, and noted they were in an excellent position to lend some of their expertise to helping realize the ambitious project.
“What we hope as the chamber of commerce bring to this is that we have the experience in planning events and crowds,” Johnson said.
“We have the knowledge behind us for that with the business awards and the business expo and Quest for the Best. When Nolan called and asked if we’d be willing to go into a collaboration, we thought it would be a great idea. It’s something that Fort needs and it’s a great idea.”
The plan is simple in concept, and complex in execution. To begin, the team plans to have 60 stalls available in the library parking lot for two movies each night, which will be projected against the side of the Memorial Sports Centre. The first movie will run at 6:00 p.m. and will be for family-friendly fare, with movies sticking to G ratings. The second showing, scheduled to begin at 8:30 p.m., will be aimed at more mature audiences and feature films that have garnered a PG-13 or 14A rating. This way, Faragher and Johnson said, there will be an event for everyone. Entrance for each movie will be $10 per vehicle and advance tickets are being planned to be available, first at the library and then potentially at more businesses as demand grows.
The difficulties began to arise as the group waded into the specifics of the event.
“We were originally going to do a tarp on the wall,” Faragher said of the theatre set-up.
“That was shot down because people with more experience said it doesn’t work that well. So then Heather reached out to the I.Falls Nice for what they were using for their screen. They had an inflatable one, so then we thought we might as well do the same.”
Once they had the screen sorted out, they turned their efforts to finding a projector that would have the power to give movie-goers a theatre-like experience.
“We had projectors between the Chamber, the library and NCDS, but none of them were powerful enough to project such a large image at a distance,” Faragher explained.
“So we had to get a 5,000 lumen projector, which was 3,000 more than what any of ours could do.”
For reference, a 60-watt incandescent lightbulb will give off roughly 800 lumens, and most indoor or office projectors aren’t meant to throw their images more than a handful of feet. On the other side of the spectrum, projectors used for movie theatres can output tens of thousands of lumens, depending on the needs of the theatre. Some online sources claim IMAX projector bulbs can output up to 600,000 lumens. Johnson said they ordered both the screen and projector from Sight & Sound
But the screen and the projector are only a part of the movie-going equation, and for those who might be worried about how to fill a parking lot with high quality sound, Johnson said they’ve got a trick up their sleeve.
“The other thing we purchased from Sight & Sound is an FM transmitter,” she said.
“The movie comes right through your car radio. So if you come, you have to make sure you have a radio that has FM capabilities, and you also have to make sure that if you run your car for any reason your headlights can be turned off. In August it could either be for air conditioning or for heat, but we don’t want headlights on.”
Licensing for each movie was something else that had to be navigated. The library has a licensing agreement for ordering films to be shown in the building, but problems arise once the screen moves outside and onto the parking lot, which is town property. Johnson said the rights to some newer and more popular movies have also proved to be very expensive. Still, while they are waiting on confirmation for some of their movie picks, Johnson said the first three weeks of films have been ordered.
The first family film that will be shown is “Trolls World Tour” featuring the voices of Anna Kendrick and Justin Timberlake, and the first late-night movie will be M. Night Shyamalan’s “Unbreakable” which stars Bruce Willis and Samuel L. Jackson.
Once people arrive at the parking lot for each movie’s show time, members of the Fort Frances First Responders will guide them to their designated stall to park. The First Responders will also be handling first aid at the venue, while members of the Bear Clan Patrol will be on scene as security. There will also be an onsite canteen that will be operated by the Kiwanis Club that will sell popcorn and doughnuts. Faragher and Johnson stress that people outside of their cars will be required to wear a mask.
“We’re going to be social distancing, so we’re going to have spray paint or chalk to draw out where to stand,” Faragher said.
“There is going to be mandatory mask wearing, and that follows nicely with what the district has announced.”
“It would be hard to make sure everybody’s six feet apart if you have 60 vehicles, so wearing the mask is just common sense with everything that’s going around,” Johnson agreed.
As the summer and fall move on, and if the demand is there, Faragher and Johnson said they’ll be open to trying to find a larger venue to accommodate more people per showing. Additionally, there’s hope that different themed nights will be held, like a Halloween, early Christmas, or senior’s movie night in order to cater to more specific tastes. While nothing is set yet, Faragher also said they’re hoping to put on a free movie night for health care workers to thank them for the work they’ve done during the pandemic.
The team is also asking for members of the public to submit movie suggestions for films they would like to see. Faragher said they’ve only received two movie suggestions so far, but they are open to trying to get the rights to any movies up to 14A for one of the showtimes. Suggestions can be emailed to Faragher at
With so much planning done and the ordered items on the way, Faragher and Johnson said they’ve reached the point where all they can do now is wait. Originally the movie nights were set to begin this Friday, but a delay in the delivery pushed that premiere date back a week. Still, they are hopeful the equipment arrives in time to do a few test runs to iron out any kinks and finally get the public in to share in this community event by next Friday, August 7.
“We’re really excited to be bringing this,” Johnson said.
“We really think this is what the community needs, and I think it’s a good idea just from the response that we’ve had.”
“It really took off,” Faragher agreed.
“It’s not really about watching new movies, it’s about going to see a movie. Sure you can watch on Netflix, but you can come sit in your car with your friends or family. And I think we’ll see an uptick in drive-in movie theatres as a trend that might stick around long after the COVID-19 pandemic has passed.”
To keep up to date on progress and movie selections, check out the Chamber of Commerce and Public Library Facebook pages.