A historic Catskills’ institution modernizes
GREENVILLE — The lights are back on at the Greenville Drive-In, thanks to the installment of a new Christie digital projection system. Originally built in 1959 and located 25 miles south of Albany, the theatre hosted movie-goers under the stars of the Catskills until the cost of converting the projectors from 35mm film to digital forced it to close in 2013.
The husband and wife team of Dwight Grimm and Leigh Van Swall has taken up the challenge of making the conversion. Bolstered in part by a Kickstarter campaign ending June 28th, the couple has established July 4th as the date for the grand re-opening of the institution. “I see the new digital projection system not as an expensive necessity but as an amazing opportunity to expand the entertainment options available to the community,” said Grimm, 44, a video producer by profession. The scope of the theatre will be expanded by offering locally-sourced food and beverages with the screenings and opening up the facilities to daytime events.
“We are referring to as a ‘fareground’,” said Van Swall, 45. “Where we are in the Northern Catskills, we are surrounded by farms and local craftspeople, so we are making sure our concessions and calendar reflect that.” Of course, movies remain the primary draw and the couple is cultivating a schedule that features popular retrospective movies, independent features and a variety of supporting films such as shorts, cartoons and vintage entertainment.
“Movie theatres used to be very local. We are trying to bring that part of the experience back. The digital projector gives us the opportunity to let regional filmmakers have a public outlet for their work,” explained Grimm. The Greenville Drive-In also plans to be the first drive-in theatre in the country offering the chance to play video games on their 80’ screen.
Both Van Swall and Grimm grew up with drive-in movie theatres in their communities. “I’m one of those people who saw Jaws at the drive-in and 40 years later, I’m still afraid of the water,” said Van Swall. Grimm noted that the Pioneer Drive-In Theatre was the only venue showing first-run movies during his adolescence in Alice Springs, Australia. After the couple purchased their home in neighboring Preston Hollow, NY in 2008 one of the first things they did was catch a movie at the Greenville Drive-In. “We would take our truck, put an inflatable mattress and pillows in the back then tune in the show with a boom box,” said Van Swall, “It was great. Even at home, we still have an outdoor plywood screen on sawhorses we refer to as Sawhorse Cinema.”
The area around the Northern Catskills plays an important role in the history of outdoor cinema. While it is well documented that the first drive-in movie theatre came into existence in Camden, NJ in 1933, the town of Schoharie just thirty miles northwest of Greenville claims the title of the first outdoor motion picture screening in U.S. history. Every summer beginning June 7, 1917 and running until World War II, the townspeople of Schoharie hosted free movie screenings on Main Street against the side of the court house.
“We are excited to be a part of this tradition of outdoor cinema in the Catskills,” said Grimm. The couple is looking forward to helping organize a 100th anniversary event in 2017.