HIFF40 Recap: HIFF Drive-In Revives the Theater Going Experience

By Nathan Lim | November 28, 2020

An ideal pit-stop for cooped-in families and quarantine joy-riders alike, the HIFF40 Drive-in Cinema was a much needed excuse to get outside. In addition to the vintage vibe, drive-in films allowed us the lost sensation of congregating and sharing a singular source of entertainment without violating health guidelines.

The idea was brainstormed into conception as early as April and May of this year, when HIFF team members sought methods of safely gathering large audiences for screenings, while adhering to state health guidelines and social-distancing measures.

“We quickly all agreed that a drive-in would be a fun and safe alternative to a theater-going experience, while maintaining the same collective atmosphere that our community enjoys,” Director of Partnerships Gianni Minga said. 

With three drive-in locations designated at Ala Moana Shopping Center parking lot (co-presented with Aloha Drive-In Movies), the old Varsity building in Mo‘ili‘ili, and Windward Mall in Kāneʻohe (both presented by Kamehameha Schools, Varsity Building screenings supported by Creative Industries Division, DBEDT), each film and location pairing attracted a unique crowd. 

“Family films would noticeably bring out the whole family and make it a fun night out with the kids, while our ethnic focused films would bring out many supporters from their communities such as LUMPIA WITH A VENGEANCE and THE GIRL WHO LEFT HOME which brought huge Filipino audiences,” Minga said. 

Artistic Director Anderson Le added, “I personally loved presenting films that were quintessentially made for the true drive-in experience such as GREASE SING-A-LONG, with faint singing in dozens of cars. SHADOW IN THE CLOUD, a WWII-set action thriller that brought a lot of hooting and hollering from fans who were really into all the zany, B-movie fun of that film and THE PAPER TIGERS was also a great sold out screening, harkening back to the love of ’80s kung fu comedies.”

To cap off twenty successful drive-in showings of a wide range of local and international films, the spotlight shifted back to the original ancestors of Hawai‘i with The Kānaka Maoli New Wave: a lineup of the best Native Hawaiian short films from previous festival years, as well as the “world premiere” of HAWAIIAN SOUL from director ʻĀina Paikai. 

“A HIFF favorite, the Kānaka Maoli New Wave drive-in event brought a sold out local audience, with loud “chee-hoo’s” lighting up the night. It was a deeply appreciative audience who witnessed their stories unspool on the big screen, with several of the short films presented shot right in Kāneʻohe and other parts of the Windward side,” Minga said.

While the drive-in films represented a reclamation of our right as cinephiles to gather before large screens and experience an ecstasy of emotions, we were also reminded of the lost feeling of audience interaction and post-viewing reflection.

“The thing that I enjoyed about the events was that I was able to interact with our audience members just like I would during a normal Festival,” Minga said. 

Anderson Le agrees and sees a silver lining with the drive-in revival that is spreading across the country, “Because of the pandemic, HIFF pivoted to an online streaming platform, but we still want to retain the ‘magic of the movies’ by experiencing cinema on the big screen. Necessity brought back the drive-in movie. Nostalgia and novelty is what keeps bringing people back. Drive-ins are here to stay!”