The Tribeca Film Festival waited as long as it could to postpone this year’s 19th edition, announcing in March that the coronavirus pandemic had made the mid-April event impossible. Barely two months later, though, the festival announced an ambitious idea: A chain of pop-up drive-in theaters around the country, with films curated by the festival’s staff.
Among the locations that signed up: The famous Rose Bowl in Pasadena, the AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Tx., and, here on Long Island, Nickerson Beach Park in Lido Beach. For festival co-founder Jane Rosenthal, the idea echoed the original mission of the festival: To harness the power of movies and help Manhattan’s Tribeca neighborhood rebound after 2001’s devastating 9/11 attacks.
“How can we do more for the country? How can we take Tribeca on the road a bit?” Rosenthal says of the thinking that spurred the national drive-in events. “And here we are.”
If there’s any silver lining to the pandemic, it’s the return of drive-ins, which combine built-in social distancing with a dose of nostalgia. On Long Island, where the last permanent drive-in vanished decades ago, pop-up venues have become almost the new normal. Even so, the Tribeca Drive-In at Nickerson Beach is an unusually ambitious undertaking. The monthlong event, which runs consecutive weekends July 9 through Aug. 2, boasts two jumbo-sized LED screens, capacity for more than 240 cars per night, FM audio transmission and car-side food delivery. As for the movie lineup, there’ll be double features, family-friendly matinees and at least one sneak preview among the more than 25 titles.
“People have been cooped up for so long, and they’re looking for fun things to do in a way that’s less risky,” says Nassau County Executive Laura Curran. “And I can’t think of a better way than drive-in movies.”
Local officials and Tribeca staff say nearly all equipment and crew for the event will be provided by Tribeca Enterprises. “Obviously, we’re engaging with the police department and the department of public works to deal with traffic, but the Tribeca folks are going to be doing everything else,” Curran says. “It’s kind of a turnkey operation.”
Part of that includes the film programming, which has been tailored to each venue. Nickerson’s series will kick off July 9 with a sneak preview of “Palm Springs,” a wedding-themed comedy starring Andy Samberg and Cristin Milioti (its official release is the following day and it will also stream on Hulu). There will be crowd-pleasers like “Black Panther” (July 11), but also grown-up fare like “Bridesmaids" (July 24). Double features abound: “Mean Girls” will screen with “Superbad" (July 17); “Goldfinger” will accompany “Casino Royale” (Aug. 2). Audiences will also see trailers for upcoming studio films (including “Wonder Woman 1984”) and prerecorded introductions from filmmakers.
An added attraction for families: Nickerson’s two LED screens, which measure 61 feet wide by 35 feet tall, will be bright enough for daytime matinees. That means younger viewers can see a 5 p.m. showing of, say, “Spy Kids” (July 11) or “Pee-wee’s Big Adventure” (July 26) and still be home for bedtime. It also means adults can get an early start on one of those double features.
“We Zoomed through all our favorite movies,” says Paula Weinstein, the festival’s Chief Content Officer. “We wanted summer movies, something that felt completely right for the drive-in.”
Moviegoers will be able to purchase food and snacks from two food trucks on site operated by MMEink, a Farmingdale-based hospitality company that already serves as the concessionaire for Nickerson Beach. Items will range from the usual popcorn and cotton candy to lobster rolls and cornbread. According to MMEink, patrons can go online to place orders, which will be delivered by a car hop to your numbered parking spot. Or, you can flag down one of those car- ops, who will take down your order using a wireless tablet.
Safety will be a top priority during the drive-in events, according to Eileen Krieb, Commissioner of Nassau County Parks, Recreation and Museums. Both staff and patrons must wear masks. Cars will be spaced at least six feet apart, and social distancing will be monitored when patrons are outside their vehicles. The restrooms, which will be in trailers rather than the usual festival-style individual units, will be cleaned regularly.
All told, Nickerson is expecting roughly 1,000 people each night, Krieb says. “We’re trying to discourage people from getting out of their cars,” she says. “The less walking around, the better.”
With indoor theaters closed for the short-term future, and most major-studio films delayed until August, the Tribeca Drive-In maybe become Long Island’s go-to movie experience for much of the summer. “Hopefully people will go and have fun and be reminded how great it is,” says Tribeca’s Weinstein. “Even if you’re a car away from your friends, at least you can wave and laugh at the same jokes.”
The Tribeca Drive-In series runs Thursdays through Sundays, July 9 to Aug. 2, at Nickerson Beach Park in Lido Beach.
TICKETS Price per vehicle is $26 for a single screening, $35 for a double feature. Tickets must be purchased in advance online. For showtimes, tickets and other information visit tribecafilm.com.