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The whimsical world of cinema on wheels

Cinema is a place that brings back magic to your life when you have lost it. You fall into the soft red chair, hear the chatter fading away in synchrony with the lights. The sweet popcorn scent fills your nose, you have the urge to eat it all before the film has even started. You drown in a sea of mystical melodies. Wave by wave, the lines hit you. Like a tide, you are drawn into the whimsical world of the film. You are much more than a silent observer, standing outside a coffee shop’s window, glancing in only to find yourself unable to grasp the scene because you cannot hear the conversations inside. In cinema, the glass shatters in the first second, and you are immediately fully emerged in the world of film.

Admittedly, I have never been a regular cinemagoer. When I was living in Berlin, I sometimes went to small independent cinema nights, but the last film I had watched in a theatre was the breath-taking ‘Capernaum’ in 2019. When I moved to London and started university, I was always too busy to go to the cinema. But with lockdown came cravings for the soul-crushing, all-surrounding cinematic experience again. I longed for the noise of crunching popcorn, the supernatural bond formed with other cinemagoers as a result of sharing such an intimate and emotive moment. Staying at home and returning to my small hometown made me miss meeting strangers in line and the snippets of conversation you collect standing outside the cinema after the film.

Image Credit: Malina Aniol

One day mid-May, I met a former school friend who told me she was going to a drive-in cinema that weekend. One week later, I sat in her car, wearing cuddly socks, a pillow tucked behind my head. We were on our way to a tiny drive-in cinema somewhere in the middle of nowhere. The journey already was an adventure. We drove through the shadows of the woods, foxes crossing the street in front of us, so excited that we almost missed the cinema – neither sign nor Google managed to point us in the right direction. Upon arrival, we were greeted by three children dancing and holding up signs explaining the social distancing rules. The cinema was run by their family on a small cottage with a few volunteers selling homemade food and organic popcorn – it had sold out immediately.

Image Credit: Malina Aniol

When the sun finally made space for the stars, a voice on the radio of the car announced the beginning of ‘Once Upon a Time... in Hollywood’. The first notes played, filling the whole car. Within seconds we were singing along, drumming on the front desk with our feet. With our windows slightly opened, we could hear cows chanting their lullaby, and from time to time the laughter from inside other cars. At one point, there came a scene were Brad Pitt stands behind a drive-in cinema smoking. I had the same feeling of secrecy that overcomes me when reading my name or the title of my favourite book in another book. It felt like being given the key to a door opening a whole new side of the story.

Of course, the drive-in cinema didn’t give me everything that I was looking for. There were no spontaneous conversations with strangers. Nor did I experience the same vulnerability and intimacy as when squeezed into a small theatre. When Quentin Tarantino’s latest ended, I still longed for that implicit interaction, that knowing smile acknowledging that even though we are strangers, we have been part of something special.

Nevertheless, sitting there in our car, we were taken into another world. A world full of hugs, kisses, insider jokes – something we all abruptly had to give up for safety. The drive-in cinema gave this back to me. Although I felt lonely, separated from others, the film created a bond between us all. As it ended, we did not leave as singular entities, but as a caravan of light connected by the magic of cinema.

Read the review of 'Once Upon A Time... In Hollywood' here.

Edited by Juliette Howard, Deputy Film Editor

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