Vancouver events industry and festivals discouraged by drive-in ruling

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      Arts, live-music, and movie events that had hoped to preserve some of their programming with drive-ins are dismayed this week after what they describe as an unexpected announcement by B.C. provincial medical health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry.

      On Friday afternoon, during a press conference, she amended her public-health order that prohibits gatherings of more than 50 people so it would ban more than 50 vehicles for "outdoor drive-in events", with a restriction on the sale of refreshments. 

      “I know that was a challenge for some people, but really this is a time when we need to be careful,” clarified Henry the next day in her press conference. “Even though 50 cars may seem like a small amount and it is a less risky environment, we know that if we get people, there will be several people in a vehicle, and the chance of more contact, meaning spreading this virus is real right now."

      Henry indicated she worried people "don’t stay in their cars all the time when you’re at these events".

      Last week, the Straight reported that the Vancouver International Film Festival, Point Blank Shows, and Fresh Air Cinema had been working for weeks planning for summer drive-in events to try to sustain a semblance of programming for themselves and others.

      In an interview with the Straight, events producer Promosa Management Inc.'s director of business development, Scott Emslie, said his company had been working with VIFF and talking with the Vancouver International Jazz Festival, Pride fest, Live Nation, Blueprint, and others to come up with a multi-use  facility or facilities that would have a large screen and a stage.

      The ruling effectively kills the drive-in events, he said. Erecting a proper screen in a Vancouver parking lot, plus paying to staff washrooms and entry to have proper health regulations, made it too costly to have less than 150 cars allowed on the site. For the proposal to have been viable, everything had to be financed, constructed, and in place by June 1, Emslie said, though Henry indicated in her press conference Monday that the situation might change for the summer.

      "The drive-in model was the one model that would create a safe environment," he told the Straight. "We've spent the last two months developing a very robust health and safety plan....It was pretty devastating to our team.

      "I think the frustrating thing is there is not a ton of reasoning and there's no direct line of communication with the event industry to find a solution that makes sense," Emslie added. "For example, you can easily put a restriction on the car as to how many passengers there are.

      "The events industry has been completely devastated and this was our one hope for the summer."

      Henry indicated it would be easier to contact-trace if vehicles were kept to 50. At a press conference Monday, questioned about the drive-in ruling, Henry clarified the ban would extend to established theatres like Aldergrove-Langley's Twilight Drive-In, which until now has been sold out most nights, hosting hundreds of vehicles with extra health regulations, since the pandemic hit. 

      "This is not going to be forever," Henry stated. "We need to be consistent and 50 is our number." She said there's too much risk with mass gatherings of any kind and said her team would be reviewing and revising over the next few weeks. "We need to take a deep breath and realize these aren't things to be got around," she said Monday. 

      Provincial Medical Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry at the press conference Monday.
      Screen shot

      Emslie questioned whether the ban would achieve the aim of contributing to keeping the curve flattened.

      "If we don't create these safe controlled environments, people are going to get together elsewhere," he said. "People are looking to get out and do stuff and they're going to do this at the parks and the beaches, which are harder to regulate. The drive-in was the perfect solution--not only for the events industry but to navigate this time."

      Last week, VIFF year-round programmer Tom Charity told the Straight the drive-in offers a viable way of continuing to operate during social distancing and the temporary shutdown of the fest's Vancity Theatre downtown. Though it’s already offering streaming of international art films on its website, “the drive-in is closer to what we love doing: giving audiences a collective and communal experience,” explained Charity. “It’s a cinemalike experience, but with that extra security.…We’re all extremely mindful of wanting this to be safe." Food would be ordered by phone and delivered to the car hood; washrooms would see extra sanitation; and tickets would be pre-bought.

      VIFF said it had been working with Promosa to build a high-calibre, 46-foot LED video screen, large enough to captivate an audience of 400 spectators (based on 200 vehicles with an average of two occupants per car).

      Point Blank's Howard Blank had indicated the costs of a quality summer drive-in screen were too high for a one-off event. “If we can find a property long-term over the summer, then we can build a screen for a six-figure cost," he told the Straight last week.

      Proposals for both the VIFF screen and Point Blank had allowed for movie programming alongside concerts, comedy shows, festival performances, and graduation ceremonies--all of which have seen mass cancellations due to the pandemic.