Sunday, June 5, 2005

MauiFEST Drive In

Return of the drive-in

A Maui filmmaker's vision turns
into a popular monthly event

By Gary T. Kubota

WAILUKU - What began as an evening of film nostalgia amid the night stars last summer has turned into the return of the drive-in movie theater on Maui.

On the last Saturday of each month, more than 20 cars, pickup trucks and vans begin to form a waiting line before the opening at 5:30 p.m. for the MauiFEST Hawaii-MCC Drive-In Movie Theatre, at a soccer field on the west side of Maui Community College.

A large white wooden panel has been built between two 45-foot telephone poles to serve as the projection screen.

"I had this vision to bring it back," said Ken K. Martinez Burgmaier, a partner in the venture.

Burgmaier, a filmmaker and promoter of the Maui-based syndicated TV series called "Jazz Alley TV," said he grew up in the 1960s in Colorado, where drive-in theaters were part of a weekend family evening.

"My parents would take us there in pajamas with pillows," Burgmaier recalled.

The last drive-in theater on Maui, located a few hundred yards east of its current location in Kahului, closed on Dec. 15, 1967.

On Oahu, the last drive-in movie theater, the Kam Drive-In, closed in 1998.

The MauiFEST drive-in theater comes with a few changes.

Instead of the adjustable volume speaker on a pole next to each vehicle, two loudspeakers near the screen provide patrons with the film audio.

Customers may also tune in to an FM frequency in a car or transistor radios carrying the sound portion of the film.

Patrons can bring their own dinners and snacks.

The charge is $5 per adult, $40 for four adults for premier parking, and free for children under 10.

The latest showing in May was a combination of nostalgia and light comedy -- "Devil at 4 O'clock," filmed in the 1950s in Lahaina with stars Spencer Tracy and Frank Sinatra, along with the animated feature "The Incredibles" and a documentary about the country of Bhutan.

Before the films, entertainers such as Boy Kanae strum on the ukulele, sing and tell jokes.

The smell of hot dogs and teriyaki meat on the grill drifts across the rows of parked vehicles.

"It's really relaxing after the week's work," said Donelle Kane, a volunteer at a nonprofit scholarship food booth sponsored by her family's Hapa Papa Tours. "Where else can you take your dog?"

Besides the family dog, Pumpkin, the gathering also included her parents Leroy and Johnelle Kane, her daughters Michelle and Jessicann, and aunty Wilma Kahalekai.

For some, the film is secondary to being among friends in an open-air park atmosphere.

"It's about socializing together," said Maddie Clarke, a teenager.

Amid pillows, blankets and stuffed animals, Clarke sat in the back of a pickup truck with several other girls who gathered to celebrate the birthday of their 13-year-old friend Serena Perry.

Burgmaier said he began the drive-in theater idea last summer on the grounds of Hui Noeau Visual Arts Center in Makawao, where it sold out after reaching a 60-car limit.

He said there was a tremendous enthusiasm among the people who were there.

"There was just a whole generation that never experienced it," he said.

Burgmaier said he met with college chancellor Clyde Sakamoto, who was excited about the idea of bringing the drive-in theater on campus.

Burgmaier said under an agreement with Sakamoto, half the money from the ticket sales goes to college, and several nonprofit groups operate fund-raising food booths.

Burgmaier said since the drive-in theater opened in December, attendance has grown steadily, sometimes reaching more than 200 cars.

Lee Stein, a Maui Community College instructor and an adviser to student group Malama Lahui Kanaka, said the drive-in has helped her group raise money to support a mobile dental van providing services to low-income residents.

Stein said the atmosphere was wonderful: "It gives Mauians an opportunity to be outdoors and ... in a community together."