Nothing Mini About It

Blue Starlite Mini Urban Drive-In breaks in its big new digs this weekend

Nothing Mini About It

As Austin-based giant Alamo Drafthouse goes bicoastal, the little drive-in theatre that could steps up to a bigger local stage.

The Blue Starlite Mini Urban Drive-In, which currently screens classic and independent films on a 25-by-14-foot screen in the empty parking lot of Austin Film Studios, is moving up the road from its 51st Street location to the abandoned National Guard Armory, where they'll be able to bring in more cars and park them more comfortably.

The land was recently acquired by the Austin Film Society, which partnered with the drive-in to program films for its lineup last summer. Blue Starlite founder Josh Frank said the new space is huge. "It is literally the field where planes used to land for the National Guard," he said. "[At the Austin Film Studios lot,] we could barely squeeze in about 45 cars and basically it was difficult for everyone to open their car doors."

This will be the fourth location in as many years for Blue Starlite, a project started by Frank in 2009 that at one point existed in an alleyway. "It started as a little test thing and it's just gone really well," he said. Frank has also acquired a 26-foot vintage Allegro RV that will serve as a fully functional mobile drive-in for private events. "I'm learning more and more what 'mini urban drive-in' means and what I want it to mean," he said. And that includes being a showcase for indie cinema in addition to its slate of archival films. "We like being a retro house, but we're also trying to balance that with being a venue for independent films," he said.

It's a fortunate next step for Frank and his team as the number of their drive-in contemporaries continues to dwindle beneath the towering presence of multiplex theatres – the Los Angeles Times reported earlier this year that drive-in theatres represent 1.5% of American movie theatres, a cratering from its 1950s peak of 25% of the market. And the theatres threaten to become stamped out altogether as the film industry moves to eliminate the 35mm film that most drive-ins use in favor of digital projections. The conversion process can cost $100,000, enough to put some drive-ins out of business. But luckily, Blue Starlite has been digital from its inception – and that combination of retro and tech seems to suit Austin just fine.

At the Drive-In

Two weekends of double features break in the new location at the landing strip (not to be confused with the Landing Strip). The lineup is as follows, with the first film screening at 8:30pm and the second at 10:45pm. – Monica Riese

April 26: Grease and Dazed & Confused

April 27: Airplane! and Top Secret

May 3: Back to the Future and The Goonies

May 4: The Goonies and Back to the Future

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Blue Starlite Mini Urban Drive-In, drive-in, movie, Josh Frank, Austin Film Society, National Guard Armory, Grease, Dazed & Confused, The Goonies, Airplane!, The Naked Gun, Back to the Future

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