Interlakes community members work together on constructing a drive-in movie theatre in early May. (Submitted photo)

Interlakes builds drive-in movie theatre

‘It looks like it could be a golf course now, really, it’s beautiful’

Despite everything COVID-19 has cancelled and put on hold, it’s allowed new ideas and events to blossom in their place such as the Interlakes’ new Drive-In Movie Theatre.

While it’s not a new idea, the hey-day of the drive-in movie theatre has long since passed in most parts of the world as first movie theatres, then Blockbuster and most recently streaming services like Netflix have provided more comfortable convenient ways to consume media. However, none of them can capture the unique social experience of attending a drive-in and with COVID-19 limiting our social opportunities it might just be the perfect activity to do with others this summer.

The new drive-in theatre in the Interlakes area was the brainchild of Sandi Sillito, the owner of The Boondocks restaurant and a 15 year resident of the Cariboo formerly from Victoria. A former oil patch worker, Sillito said she enjoys the beauty of the Cariboo and has built her own home and hobby farm in the area.

“(I love) the sense of community (here). Just how everyone knows each other and when you go to the store it’s taking an hour because you’re stopping and talking to 15 different people along the way,” Sillitio said. “Coming from a big city, it’s refreshing.”

Much like most restaurants in the Cariboo Sillito had to close down her business in March just after celebrating their third anniversary of being open on March 15. Thankfully however she had her employees have all qualified for government support and have been looked after, which took a lot off her mind.

With her business shutdown, Sillito began using her free time to think of alternative things for herself and the community to do. The idea of a drive-in theatre became appealing as a way for people to socialize in a safe manner with social distancing being easy to maintain

It had been a project she’d thought of a lot before COVID-19 in part because, as a smoker, she knows that some people can’t go for two and a half hours without a cigarette. Due to public smoking laws, they obviously can no longer do this in the theatre but at a drive-thru, they’d have the freedom to do so.

“I always thought it’d be a cool idea to bring it back and people could sit in their car and have a cigarette, do whatever and relax in the comfort of their own space,” Sillitio said. “I’m just old enough that I barely remember my parents taking me to a drive-in and it just seems like a cool idea.”

Now with time to bring it to fruition, Sillitio started floating the idea past other members of the Interlakes community who readily came on board to make her idea a reality. From there, she said everything that was put together for the drive-in theatre was by donation.

DBD Log Homes provided the huge 25-foot posts needed to mount the screen, while RONA supplied plywood and two by fours to construct the screen, the Interlakes Economic Society provided the money for the paint and around a half dozen people, including herself, got to work earlier this month and after a good ten hours got everything together. With the help of an excavator, they were able to put the screen up and Bree Contracting, as a little surprise, excavated the whole area to make it flat and level removing a few logs and junk from the site.

“It looks like it could be a golf course now, really, it’s beautiful,” Sillitio said

Initially, when it came to planning the movies, Sillitio was a little apprehensive due to her lack of experience. However, the owner of the South Cariboo Theatre, Jacquie McKay stepped in to help her out by providing her expertise and licensing which grants them access to an online movie catalogue. It’s given Sillitio the confidence to let the community know they’ll be showing films twice a week on Fridays and Saturdays.

Admission is by donation with all proceeds going towards paying whatever fee McKay pays to show the movie and the rest going to the Interlakes Economic Society. As Sillitio knows many families in the area don’t have a disposable income right now she doesn’t want to deter them from coming out and having a good time. A jar will be provided by the projector where people can find out which radio station to tune in to so they can listen to the movie’s audio.

The rules for the event, to ensure they’re implying with Dr Bonnie Henry’s guidelines are as follows:

  • Maximum of 50 vehicles, with patrons not allowed to leave the vehicle. Patrons can open hatchbacks/sit inside truck beds/tailgates.
  • The maximum number of persons inside each vehicle should be limited to six to align with Dr Henry’s vision of small group gatherings no more than six persons
  • Preregistration to ensure the maximum number of attendees is maintained.
  • Prepayment/online payment ahead of the event
  • Volunteers/staff monitoring the crowd for physical distancing
  • Advise those who are ill with Covid-19 symptoms they are not allowed to attend, this would include musicians/staff/volunteers and attendees

McKay said that residents interested in attending can prepay at the theatre in town Fridays and Saturdays between 3:30 and 7 p.m. or can transfer the money to

Recommended donation is $5/per person or $20/per car.

While she intends to stick to the twice a week format, Sillitio said she is considering on the long weekend doing a trilogy of movies like Back to the Future each night. Their next film showing on Friday, May 29 and Saturday, May 30 will be the original Jurassic Park at the new drive-in which is located beside where the Interlakes Farmers Market is typically held. The movie starts whenever it gets dark which is typically around 9:30 p.m., Sillitio observing they’re at the mercy of Mother Nature.

So far, despite a few technical glitches on their first night, she said the screenings have been really well received by the public with around two dozen attending on their first two nights.

“I expect it will just kind of grow as the word of mouth spreads,” Sillito said. “It’s a cost-effective and safe way to get out and still be social distanced while getting a little entertainment.”

Sillito concluded by saying she was very proud to have watched the community come together and make her idea a reality and hopes it ends up having a place in the community for the long term.

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