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Drive-in movies are back in Medford and Central Point

Beckoning to a simpler time, and offering an alternative to canceling “movies in the park” during a likely summer of social distance, the cities of Central Point and Medford are throwing back to the days of drive-in movies.

A few differences will be apparent — no snack shack, and attendees will have to stay inside their cars — but coordinators are hopeful the drive-in style flicks will spark some nostalgia of movie nights from generations past.

Perhaps more importantly, the drive-in attractions could offer some return to normalcy, said Medford Parks and Recreation Director Rich Rosenthal.

The city of Medford’s drive-in kicked off last Friday at U.S. Cellular Community Park with “The Sandlot.” A repeat showing Saturday was canceled due to rain, so those with reservations will have first dibs this week.

The city’s first drive-in since the 1980s — the Starlite Theater along Highway 99 closed in 1987 — was a huge hit. The movies are free, but only 65 slots are offered — via online raffle. The first weekend yielded 1,926 requests to attend.

Rosenthal said the city began looking for public events that could accommodate social distancing rules almost as soon as stay-home orders were issued. For the modern day “drive-in,” movie audio is transmitted on an FM transmitter, which attendees tune into with their car radios, and the movie is projected onto a large screen.

“It’s not a novel concept, but it’s something we knew would be a good idea. We started working on this on the second day of the stay-home order,” he said, noting that the drive-in setup, between fields six and seven, allow for up to 65 cars with unobstructed views.

“We offered our first movie Friday, and I think the 58 cars that were there were very happy to be there.”

The raffle option, Rosenthal said, helped prevent too many cars from showing up, “so we could make sure we didn’t have 2,000 cars descend on us and then hundreds of people mad they didn’t get in.”

In Central Point, a drive-in experience is set to begin at The Expo June 5 and 6, with tickets going on sale June 1. The movies that weekend will be “Sonic the Hedgehog,” at 8 p.m. Friday, and “Star Wars: Rise of Skywalker,” at 8 p.m. Saturday.

Helen Funk, Jackson County Expo director, said she was thrilled to see some events beginning to occur for the region. The Expo’s Rogue Drive-In is a partnership with the city of Central Point, which hosts movies in the park every summer and already had purchased a summer’s worth of movie rights, Funk said.

Movie access will come with a small fee — $5 per person — to cover cost for the movies. Funk said just two movies had been announced, thus far, to gauge interest and viability of the plan.

“These are the movies that were planned for movies in the park this summer, so we’re happy to help offer an alternative, and it will be great for us to open the gates and do something,” said Funk.

“It’s been a long time. We want to be able to have people here again. Hopefully things will start to lighten up a little, and we’ll be a little more open for things.”

Nikki Petersen, special events coordinator for Central Point Parks and Recreation, said she was excited that community members would still have some events to look forward to despite a slew of cancellations due to COVID-19 restrictions.

“We had already purchased the rights to all the movies and we were worried we were going to have to cancel. Everybody loves the movies in the park. We all get to see people we haven’t seen. Neighborhoods get together. So much has already been canceled, so we wanted to find a way to still have some things still happen,” Petersen said.

“My generation and my children’s generation didn’t have the drive-in experience — my generation caught the tail end of it — so now we’ll have grandparents and some parents who are going to get to introduce something new to these younger generations.”

Petersen was hopeful the city would continue the drive-in movies all summer. Tickets go on sale June 1 on the Expo’s website.

Going forward, Rosenthal said the city of Medford would offer one night per week — likely Friday — and only for Medford residents because of limited space.

After social distancing restrictions are lifted, he said, the city will return to movies in the park, but it likely will offer one or two dates each summer for the drive-in experience.

“Drive-ins are a real novelty nowadays, and the ones still around that have made it through and still exist, this will breathe new life into them and introduce that experience to a new generation,” he said.

“For us, doing the drive-in movies is a phenomenon based on our circumstances. I fully expect us to go back to having movies in the park where people can lie on their blankets again, but for the time being this is how we can provide that program under the current guidelines,” he said.

“Maybe, going forward, we do one of these for a special event, for the nostalgia. To do this every time would be pretty labor intensive, and it does limit the number of people who can participate, but for the situation we’re in right now, it’s a fun way to still be able to offer movies.”

IF YOU GO:

Drive-In movies at U.S Cellular Community Park, Medford

A link for each week of movies will be posted online at www.playmedford.com, and on the Medford Parks and Recreation Facebook page (www.facebook.com/medfordparksandrecreation/)

The movie is free, but you must be selected via raffle to attend.

The next movie has not been scheduled yet.

Rogue Drive-In (at the Expo), Central Point

Movies cost $5 per person; maximum of six people per vehicle; kids 3 and younger free.

Info: www.facebook.com/events/2640599332843064/

Tickets: www.attheexpo.com

June 5 will feature "Sonic the Hedgehog"

June 6 will feature "Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker"

Reach freelance writer Buffy Pollock at buffyp76@yahoo.com.

"Sonic the Hedgehog," rated PG, will be shown June 5 at the Rogue Drive-In at the Jackson County Expo, 1 Peninger Road, Central Point. Paramount Pictures photo.