“We’re going to rock it tonight,” he says.
With the night’s opening fast approaching, Lindquist is on a last-minute handyman run, adjusting lights and dealing with the damage from a storm that ripped through the area the night before.
“Just absolutely crazy weather,” he recalls with a laugh. “We had a lineup down the driveway and all of a sudden there was this black cloud.”
Rain came down fast and furious, briefly turning the theatre’s driveway into a rushing river. Hail pinged off car tops. The customers waited it out.
“We had a couple hundred people out here,” Lindquist says. “It shows you the resilience of our clientele, and the durability of this little labour of love. Because that’s what it is. It’s three guys doing something we really like to do.”
LABOUR OF LOVE
Though it was built in 1996, the Starlight looked like it had been abandoned for a couple of decades when Lindquist first drove past it in 2002.
Lindquist had been all over B.C.’s Interior that year, touring theatres in Castlegar, Trail and Creston as he looked for a small operation to take over.
A former projectionist at the Duncan drive-in during the late 70s, he’d worked in theatres on and off ever since and was itching to get back to the screens.
“I’d had enough of the rat race,” he says.
“I just wanted to have a little theatre in the middle of nowhere and play my shows.”
But despite his beginnings in the industry, running a drive-in had never entered the picture, until his friend and eventual business partner Randy Noonan suggested he investigate the Starlight.
Soon, he’d packed up his Lower Mainland life, and was in Enderby for good.
With the help of friends and family he, Noonan and a third owner, Brian Smith, set to work fixing the grounds, whipping the 1960s-era equipment into shape and transforming the site into a working theatre.
Twelve days later, the Starlight opened for its first official season.
“It was unreal,” Lindquist remembers. “We had no picture the night before. We got our picture working at 11 p.m. on the Thursday night before we opened Friday.”
In the 11 seasons that have followed, the trio have built a loyal following.
Some come once a summer, making special trips from Kelowna and Kamloops. Others are here nearly once a week, driving back whenever a new double feature goes up.
“People adopt it as their own,” says Lindquist. “Our customers, it’s their drive-in theatre.
“It isn’t my drive-in theatre and it isn’t Randy’s and it isn’t Brian’s.
“If you come here to see a show it’s your drive-in.”
Once the cars start rolling in, the atmosphere at the Starlight is like a family camp-out. Just under the screen a group of people set up sleeping bags, lawn chairs and blankets. Others start a pre-show game of frisbee. Two teenagers on a date crawl into a sleeping bag in the back of a pickup truck, and use the pre-show wait to check their phones.
Atop another truck, Emliee Tambellini is camped out in a nest of blankets, munching popcorn as she waits for dusk.
Her mother, Angelina Tambellini says it’s her daughter’s first drive-in experience, and the size of the screen, at 6,000 square feet, it’s a third bigger than what’s found in an IMAX theatre, has already wowed her.
Tambellini says she remembers going to the Nelson drive-in when she was a child growing up in the Kootenays.
“I’ve always liked the drive-ins like this,” she says. “I always thought they were cool. It was a good kid experience.”
The nostaligia factor is pretty common here, Lindquist says, and hard to escape given the Starlight’s 1960s decor, which extends all the way to a concession advertisement featuring dancing candy bars and hotdogs that runs just before showtime.
“One of the most amazing things to happen out here is when you can hear the kids laugh,” says Smith, between taking admissions at the front gate. “The kids will sit outside and watch the movie. And it just warms your heart, because there are none of these left and you’ve got a whole generation of 30, 40-somethings that want to bring their kids here.”
Near the back of the lot, Alexis Semeniuk has taken her camper on a detour from Paul Lake to give her kids a taste of her own childhood.
“It’s exciting,” says the Kelowna resident. “It’s fun to show my kids the experiences we used to have growing up. It’s a fun little walk down memory lane.”
It’s been 10-and-a-half seasons now since Lindquist, Noonan and Smith threw their first movie up on the screen and opened the gates to the first cars of movie-goers.
But when the trio of friends (who live in different cities in the off-season) reconvened a few months before this year’s opening, it was with the thought that season 11 would be their last.
Not for lack of cars, customers or personal interest.
“I want to do this until I’m 80,” Lindquist, 55, proclaims. But, as indoor theatres made the final push from film to digital projection, the 1960s technology that had steered the Starlight through the last decade had finally become obsolete.
Conventional digital projectors wouldn’t be able to project a big enough, clear enough picture for the Starlight’s screen. To get the same picture quality, they would have needed two running simultaneously, and even then digital projectors weren’t capable of throwing a picture all the way across the theatre’s parking and seating area.
“So 40 days before we opened we had a little meeting and said, ‘should we give it a shot?’” says Lindquist.
Another round of research followed, and this time good news came with it. A new IMAX-style projector that would meet their needs was now available.
The ’60s-style drive-in was getting a digital heart transplant.
“It’s wasn’t a financial decision. That was an emotional decision,” Lindquist says. “We didn’t want this place to go away. It was a huge investment, it’s crazy. You don’t even want to know. It’s insane.”
Once it starts, the picture quality is stunning. Crisp and clear, colours pop off the screen. Beyond that, there’s the silhouette of the mountains, the occasional flash of headlights as a stray car passes on the 97. With the car windows rolled down, stray laughter and conversation float in from around the lot, as moviegoers tuck under their blankets, pick up the popcorn and settle in.
“When the field is full and people are having a good time, that’s why you do it. That’s why you suffer through the rainy, cold, wet nights,” Smith says.
“You have to be here to experience it.”