July 15, 2020

Parking Lot in Lambertville Becomes a Drive-in Theater

NIGHT OUT AT THE DRIVE-IN: Fans of the Acme Screening Room are enthusiastic about the Saturday night “Carpool Cinema” events taking place this summer in a parking lot near the theater in Lambertville. The film series runs through the end of August.

By Anne Levin

Since taking over the former Acme market on South Union Street in Lambertville eight years ago, the Acme Screening Room has been hosting documentaries, discussions, and related events for a devoted audience of film fans. While the pandemic has put a stop to in-person events inside the building, organizers have come up with a way to keep patrons engaged.

“Carpool Cinema” has relocated the action to a parking lot behind the Spokeworks building at 204 North Union Street, just a few blocks away. The summer series has been hosting filmgoers who watch a big screen from inside, or just outside their vehicles, while practicing social distancing. The convivial gatherings begin with a half hour of live music and continue with screenings once the sky grows dark. Audience members are encouraged to bring their own food, but refreshments for sale go beyond popcorn. Thai Tida is providing Thai street food of chicken, tofu, or port satay, plus Thai iced tea and sodas.

“It’s an alternative way to get to the movies,” said Donna Muchnicki, Acme Screening Room’s executive director. “We’ve been seeing pop-up drive-ins around the country, and we’ve had some requests over the years to have some outdoor screenings. We’ve grown a lot in the past few years, so we’re finally able to do it. And with the pandemic, it just made sense.”

Judging from comments made by patrons in their cars in a short video advertising the program on the organization’s website, acmescreeningroom.org, the series is a hit. Last Saturday’s film was Yesterday; future titles include The Blues Brothers, Bohemian Rhapsody, and more to be announced. The series runs through the end of August.

“We base it a bit on what we know people like,” said Muchnicki. “It’s kind of a mix. We’re playing around with it. We usually do documentaries and that kind of thing, and we wanted to do some more popular films. We’re trying to be a little creative with our programming.”

The venture is done in partnership with the city of Lambertville and Spreen Mortgage. Lambertville businesses MSMJ Associates and Robustwealth donated the space.

Entertainment before each screening is by local musicians. John Beacher will perform on July 18, and Sam Ryan is the musical guest on July 25. “We wanted to support local musicians who haven’t had a place to work during all of this,” said Muchnicki. “Plus, it’s nice to give them an outdoor venue.”

Some 30 cars can be accommodated in the parking lot. Tickets are $35 and $40 per car. If it rains, films are rescheduled, or patrons can exchange their tickets for a different movie. There are rules – the make and license plate of cars must be registered beforehand, and there is no resell of tickets to other parties. Cars enter on a first-come, first-served basis. The big ones, such as vans and SUVs, have to park in the back row. And of course, masks must be worn by anyone who leaves their vehicle.

“We like a nice, controlled crowd,” said Muchnicki, “and it has been just that so far. We have a nice community atmosphere, and that’s what makes it work.”