ROME — Breaking Italian moviegoers of their traditional habit of abandoning theaters through the summer months has become an ongoing obsession for the country’s distributors and exhibitors. In the latest move to counter the warm-weather B.O. slump, the shutters have been reopened on Italy’s only drive-in.
Originally owned and operated by MGM and Italian partners, and opened in the summer of 1957, the drive-in is the oldest and largest in Europe. Apart from an experimental rebirth last summer, when a group of Rome students programmed a season of films on its 124-foot-by-59-foot screen, the drive-in has been closed for more than 10 years.
Rome businessman Giuseppe Pappalardo recently bought the site and has invested a considerable sum in revamping facilities, constructing a restaurant and bar, a roller-skating rink and a kids’ playground.
One key change is the move away from vandalism-prone detachable speakers. Film soundtracks now are channeled through a local radio station, and can be tuned in on car radios or on radios for hire at the gate.
The revamped drive-in is being programmed by Rome exhibitor Vasco Valerio, who was among the original partners. It is being launched with one-night-only showings of current season B.O. champions like “Titanic,” “Bean” and “The Full Monty,” as well as hit local productions such as “Life is Beautiful” and “Three Men and a Leg.”
Admissions for the two shows on the June 13-14 opening weekend were encouraging given the general malaise that has settled over Italian wickets as temperatures soared in recent weeks. More than 1,000 people rolled up to see “Titanic” on Saturday, and 600 turned out for “Face/Off” on Sunday.
“The drive-in began as a place for young couples to go on dates, but its target has changed now,” Valerio told Daily Variety. “It’s become much more attractive to families, giving them a whole new option for organizing an inexpensive evening out.”
The drive-in is situated in Casalpalocco on the outskirts of Rome. While plans are under way to build a 20-screen plex in nearby Ostia, the area of 500,000 inhabitants at present is poorly screened, forcing residents to trek to central Rome or other outlying areas to see movies.
Valerio will program short film seasons throughout summer as well as preview screenings and special events like this week’s Italy vs. Cameroon World Cup soccer match. The drive-in will operate year round, and will revert to weeklong engagements of firstrun features when the new B.O. season kicks off in September.