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Summer Bummer: Bike-In Movies Aren’t Happening

It’s a summer bummer that we only have drive-ins. Photo: Rooftop Films Facebook

This summer, the multiplex is for mini-vans.

More and more, it seems like the only way you'll catch a flick in this season of corona is at one of the drive-ins movie theaters that are popping up all over, including just-completed series in Orchard Beach and the Brooklyn Army Terminal and upcoming movies in Flushing Meadows Corona Park.

Car owners are getting all the fun because our car-loving governor and our car-loving mayor have all but banned large, car-free gatherings. But certainly some ambitious event promoter who doesn't like pollution, crashes and congestion could do a bike-in movie series, right?

Uh, wrong.

"Can you do something like a bike-in or walk up movie right now? The answer basically is no at the moment," said Dan Nuxoll, the artistic director at Rooftop Films, which is running several drive-in screenings this summer. "The laws are really pretty clear at the moment: no gathering of more than 25 people is allowed except for drive-ins."

New York City has canceled all permitted large gatherings through the end of September, and despite the fact that the city has reached Phase 4 of the economic reopening, the Parks Department still requires vendors to attest to a series of strict social distancing and hygiene measures in order to get a permit. Nuxoll said that Rooftop Films doesn't have a preference towards cars, and that the company would actually be able to make more money and draw a bigger audience without relying on a drive-in model. (The organization's summer drive-in screenings begin on Aug. 13 with, appropriately enough, Tesla in Queens.)

The risks of outdoor transmission of coronavirus are understood to be much lower than indoor transmission, but outdoor events still come with risks, so city and state leaders are requiring car-only events to avoid any airborne spread of the COVID-19 virus.

"I'm 100 percent sympathetic to people who are upset that they can't come to a movie because they don't have a car, and it's definitely frustrating that the few events in the city like concerts or movies are only available to people in cars," he said.

According to Nuxoll, Rooftop Films and multiple other arts organizations have been talking to the city and trying to figure out a way to put on an outdoor event for a decent crowd without spiking an outbreak. Those conversations have been fruitless so far, he said.

And those rich Hampton swells who packed a July 25 concert — one that was supposed to be drive-in only, but wasn't — didn't help matters.

"The big concern for the city and state right now is ... you could have another Chainsmokers situation," Nuxoll said. "What happened with the Chainsmokers kind of reaffirmed what the city and state was thinking, unfortunately."

There isn't a huge history of bike-in movies in New York City, although the Museum of Moving Image held a 2013 event in which Transportation Alternatives activists did a "bike ballet" and moviegoers sat in broken-down cars while they watched a film. The event was billed as a chance to see a movie ... and consider the car culture.

But as far as pure "bike-in" movies, there's only been this 2011 event in which marketing company Manifold invited people to bike to a pier in Greenpoint for an outdoor screening of Ferris Bueller's Day Off almost 10 years ago (excuse the extremely "early-aughts Brooklyn" vibes of the following video):

Of course, movie mania is the mother of invention. Some companies are doing outdoor events in private parking lots, but they are still difficult to put on.

"Social distancing, masks, and hand sanitizing can be a challenge," said Edjo Wheeler, executive director of Culture Lab LIC. "You can say, 'No mask, no entry,' but you can't make people keep it on the whole time when they are eating and drinking with the people they showed up with."

Culture Lab has been doing a series of comedy and music events in the parking lot at the Plaxall Building in Long Island City that are free to enter, and that are laid out so that the seating reaffirms the need for people to keep their distance from each other.

"We set up chairs with much more room between them than one can do at an outdoor seating area at a restaurant because the lot is so large. During more crowded events, we draw chalk circles and people always adhere to that, it's the visual cue they need. We are planning to have them permanently painted, as we feel this will be an ongoing issue," said Wheeler.

Posters remind people to wear their masks, but vigilance among the staff is still required, Wheeler admitted.

"'Public shaming' is a useful tool here. Musicians on stage will call people out, who then laugh and bashfully pull up their masks again. It's a new habit, to remember to pull up your mask after you take a bite from your food," he said.

If the city were willing to give a permit to a company to do an outdoor film, though, there's a potential avenue for bikes to actually help with social distancing according to one New Yorker in the film industry.

"I like the idea of a bike-in movie where you have to hold on to your bike for the duration of the event," said Nick Camacho, the marketing director at Oscilloscope Laboratories. "For one, you probably don't want to check your bike because then you're just interacting with a whole new person. And if you keep it near you and enough people do that, it kind of builds an obstacle course, so you're more encouraged to sit there instead of trying to roam and get around all the bikes in your way."

For info about Rooftop Films screenings, click here.

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