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John Waters is bringing back the drive-in — with masks — at Md. Film Festival

Will cicadas spoil the show or add to the fun?

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John Waters is a fan of drive-in movies.’ (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Writer and filmmaker John Waters says he grew up going to drive-in movies.

“We went every single night. With the same movie playing.“

He had a certain routine.

“I used to…drive in alone with two cases of beer covered in a blanket and with four people in the trunk.”

Now Waters is working to introduce a new generation to drive-in movie theaters, which are making a comeback because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“When the pandemic happened, it did bring drive-ins back,” he said in a recent interview. “Most young people have never been to a drive-in. I think it’s a good answer [to the pandemic], and it’s a good atmosphere for certain types of movies.”

Waters is getting ready to host a double feature drive-in movie night on May 21, as part of the Maryland Film Festival that runs from May 19 to May 27. The theme is “Russian Shock Night at the Drive-In,” because he selected two Russian films to present: Why Don’t You Just Die! and The Road Movie.

This will be the third time during the pandemic that Waters has hosted a drive-in night for a film festival, after double features last year for the Provincetown International Film Festival, at the Wellfleet Drive-In Theatre on Cape Cod, and the New York Film Festival, at The Bronx Zoo.

This time the venue is Druid Hill Park, home of the Maryland Zoo in Baltimore. The film festival is creating a pop-up drive-in theater on the sloping lawn of the Mansion House, the zoo’s headquarters, in conjunction with Baltimore’s Department of Recreation and Parks. It will have a 52-foot-wide inflatable screen and space for 93 vehicles. The price of admission is $25 per car, and tickets sold out in a day.

The film festival is the first organization to get a permit for an in-person outdoor gathering on public property in more than a year from the city of Baltimore, where Mayor Brandon Scott has been cautious about allowing public events. The mayor wouldn’t allow the annual July 4th fireworks show at the city’s Inner Harbor or the annual Artscape festival in July.

“I’m proud to the first one,” said Waters, who came up with the idea for a drive-in during the festival. “I’m thankful that they’re letting us do it.”

Based on his experience at the other festivals, Waters said, he’s confident it will be successful. “I love the idea of the drive-in. I think it will be good, and it is safe. Everybody’s in their car. Even if you haven’t been vaccinated. Well, I hope you don’t come if you haven’t been vaccinated. But still, everybody’s in their car. It’s at a social distance.”

Waters, who lives in Baltimore, traditionally introduces a movie of his choice on Friday night of the annual film festival, and it’s a highlight of the event. Last year it didn’t happen because the festival was cancelled due to the pandemic.

This year the festival is back as mostly a virtual event, because the theater where it’s held is still subject to COVID-related seating restrictions. Organizers asked Waters to bring back his signature movie night. He didn’t want it to be online.

“I said, I hate virtual. I’m so sick of virtual,” he recalled. “They knew I had done a drive-in at the New York Film Festival, where we showed Salo and the Gasper Noe movie, Climax…It works well in the drive In.”

Film festival organizers, led by executive director Sandra Gibson, collaborated with city officials to identify the site and figure out the details. “You don’t have to be vaccinated, but you will have to wear masks…if you’re outside your car,” Gibson said.

The parks department didn’t place a limit on the size of vehicles or the number of people in a vehicle, although larger ones will be located towards the back of the lot, she said.

“If you have a hatchback, we’ll let you open your hatchback and sit in the hatchback,” she said. “We’ll let you sit in the back of a flatbed truck as long as you have a mask on. If you have an SUV that holds eight people, we’re fine with that as long as everybody can see. But they have said you have to stay in your car.”

Waters describes Why Don’t You Just Die! as “a grindhouse, seat-ripping blood-drenched family revenge comedy that begs to be seen in a drive-in with a crazy audience cheering from their cars,” and The Road Movie as “a dash cam documentary from hell that puts you live in the car accidents and near misses all for your rage viewing pleasure.”

He said the two movies are in line with the ones he usually picks for screenings in the film festival’s Parkway Theatre, “but these two I think are even better for a drive-in setting.”

The Road Movie, featuring footage compiled from Russian dashboard cameras, has a car-oriented theme that fits with the drive-in set-up and will be the second film of the night. “You’ll drive home safely after this one, I guarantee you,” Waters said.

He chose a Russian theme, he said, “just because I loved these movies and I knew that Russia was especially kind of unmentionable these days. I’m not a fan of Russia either, but maybe everybody could come dressed as Nikita Khrushchev and his wife, or Putin.”

Given the climate in Russia, “it’s just kind of amazing that these two movies ever got made there,” he said. “They’re pretty radical movies. Especially Why Don’t You Just Die!”

Waters said the location brings back fond memories, in part because the zoo is there and he lived nearby: “I’ve always liked Druid Hill…I used to live across the street at Temple Gardens Apartments for many years.”

He jokes that he’s a little suspicious that the city permitted his event but not the Fourth of July fireworks, citing COVID-19 as the reason.

“Maybe they hope we all get it,” he said. “That’s a new one. We had the censor board. Maybe this is a different way to censor.”

He said he hopes the 17-year cicadas, insects that are just coming out of the ground in Maryland after a 17-year hiatus, make an appearance when his movies are showing.

“I wouldn’t even be mad,” he said, if they “were smashing into the windshields while we were watching. But then we should have shown The Swarm.”

Given the park setting, “you can bet there might be some,” he went on, imagining the possibilities of an insect invasion on his movie night. “It would only add to the disaster theme and the insaneness of the event, to be attacked by nature at Druid Hill Park and watching crazy Russian movies.”

According to the website DriveInMovie.com, there are about 325 drive-in movie theaters currently operating around the United States, down from a peak of more than 4,000 in the 1950s.

Besides the ones in operation, “there are many more that are permanently closed but still remain standing and could potentially be reopened at some point in the future,” says the website, which lists the drive-ins in every state and those that have closed in the past 20 years. “In fact, there have been several drive-in theaters that have been reopened the past couple of years after sitting dark for 20 or even 30 years.”

The first “true” drive-in, the website states, was the “Automobile Movie Theatre” in Camden, New Jersey. It was opened on June 6, 1933 by Richard Hollingshead, a movie buff who initially experimented with showing movies in the driveway of his home.

Hollingshead got a U. S. patent for his drive-in, which the drive-in website describes as essentially a movie screen tied to some trees, a radio placed behind the screen for sound, a film projector on the hood of a car, and a strategy for spacing out cars. His slogan was “The whole family is welcome, regardless of how noisy the children are.”

But Hollingshead’s patent was later declared invalid, and that allowed others to follow his formula without paying him royalties. “Maybe one of the reasons Drive-In Movies are so much more popular in the United States than in other countries is because the drive-in movie is truly an American invention,” the website states.

Today, both vintage drive-ins and pop-up drive-ins are being put to a variety of uses, from sites for fundraisers to filming locations to settings for socially-distanced music performances. When traditional movie theaters were shuttered because of the pandemic, drive-ins became an alternative because the audience remains outdoors.

In some cases, the land is used for swap meets and flea markets when movies aren’t being shown. Joe Biden held drive-in rallies when he was running for President, and voters applauded by honking horns and flashing headlights.

Waters, who just turned 75 and has filmed all of his movies in and around Baltimore, is a drive-in aficionado.

“I’ve spent my whole life in the drive-in,” he said. “I’ve written about them. I grew up in the Timonium Drive-In…The Bengies Drive-In, we filmed Cecil B. Demented in for a week. I spent a week on the roof of that concessions stand.”

In Polyester, “I had an art drive-in,” he said. “The joke was that they showed art movies, and in the concessions stand they had caviar and champagne. That was filmed at the Edmondson Drive-in” in Baltimore.

For him and others in his generation Waters said, the drive-in was “the first apartment’ where “kids could actually get away from their parents.”

It also taught him about saving money by sneaking people in — something he doesn’t want to see on his night.

“I’ll be catching you if you try to sneak in in the trunk, let me warn you,” he said. “I know all the tricks sneaking in the drive-in.”

For this week’s event, the plan is that Waters will be there and will be visible on screen, introducing the movies. Though he’s been vaccinated, there won’t be a Meet-and-Greet session with fans, for safety reasons. “He knows that we’ve got restrictions and he may have his own,” Gibson said. “He’s really conscious that it’s still a pandemic.”

The city has come up with a list of rules and regulations for those with tickets. Besides the requirement that people wear masks when outside the vehicle, no food or drink may be consumed outside of vehicles. Car windows must be up when eating. Tailgating isn’t allowed. Everyone must pre-register and sign a parks department waiver before arriving.

Waters said he read all the rules and couldn’t find any restrictions against having sex in a vehicle during a movie.

“I guess that means you can have sex,” he said. “When I was young, that’s what everybody did.”

The same goes for drinking in a vehicle, he said. “That’s something you always did at the drive-in too.”

The list of rules and regulations is part of the traditional drive-in experience, because every drive-in has rules. In a way, Waters said, it also goes along with the theme for the night:

“It will feel like the Russian government is watching.”

Although the drive-in night is sold out, other tickets are still available to the Maryland Film Festival, including Pride Night and eight LGBTQ-oriented films viewable online. Information about the lineup is at mdfilmfest.com.

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Out & About

10 LGBTQ events this week

A Gaga afterparty and a cardboard boat regatta among attractions

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(Washington Blade photos by Vanessa Pham and Michael Key)

Below are our picks for some of the most fun and creative things to do this week in the DMV that are of special interest to the LGBTQ community.


Reign

Logan Stone hosts ‘Reign’ on Monday. (Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Monday, August 8
8-11 p.m.
DIK Bar
1637 17th Street, N.W. (second floor)
Facebook

Join Logan Stone, Dabatha Christie and Hennessey for a fun-filled drag show at Dupont Italian Kitchen Bar tonight at 8.


OMGaga Afterparty

Lady Gaga (Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Monday, August 8
10 p.m.
Green Lantern
1335 Green Court, N.W.
Facebook

Did you catch the Gaga concert tonight? Whether you did or not, join the afterparty at Green Lantern. Show your ticket stub from the concert for a free drink on the dance floor.


Drag Bingo with Desiree Dik

Desiree Dik (Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Tuesday, August 9
7-9 p.m.
Red Bear Brewing Co.
209 M Street, N.E.
Facebook

Join Desiree Dik for a game of bingo at Red Bear Brewing Co. on Tuesday. Free to play.


Queer Trivia

Wednesday, August 10
7-9 p.m.
Dew Drop Inn
2801 8th Street, N.E.
Facebook

The Mistresses lead a night of Queer Trivia on all things gay at the Dew Drop Inn on Wednesday.


Thirst Trap Thursdays

Join Cake and the queens for Thirst Trap Thursdays. (Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Thursday, August 11
10 p.m.
Pitchers DC/A League of Her Own
2317 18th Street, N.W.
Facebook

Venus Valhalla and Cake host the Thirsty Thursdays drag show at Pitchers/ALOHO on Aug. 11.


LGBTQ Social at Wild Days

Friday, August 12
7-9 p.m.
Wild Days Rooftop Bar at the Eaton Hotel
1201 K Street, N.W.
21+
Eventbrite

Have some casual conversations with new friends in the LGBTQ community over drinks in a relaxed atmosphere. Hosted by Go Gay DC.


A Love Letter to RENT

Friday, August 12
10 p.m.
JR.’s Bar
1519 17th Street, N.W.
Free admission
Facebook

Watch a drag show dedicated to the hit musical RENT. If you miss the first show on Friday, come by on Saturday at 4 p.m. for an encore performance.


Lights On, Barks Out! Disco Heat Drag Brunch

Saturday, August 13
Seating 11 a.m./show 12 p.m.
Astro Beer Hall
1306 G Street, N.W.
$15 cover
Facebook

Join host Doming0 for the Disco Heat Drag Brunch on Saturday at Astro Beer Hall.


Lake Anne Cardboard Boat Regatta

Lake Anne (Blade file photo by Vanessa Pham)

Saturday, August 13
2 p.m.
Lake Anne Plaza
1609 Washington Plaza
Reston, Va.
Facebook | Website

Watch a cardboard regatta race along Lake Anne in Reston, Va. Or, you could even participate (rules here)!


Mister & Miss AGLA Scholarship Fundraiser

Miss AGLA 2020-21 Ashlee Jozet Adams and Mr. AGLA 2020-21 Xavier Bottoms will be honored at the event alongside the newly-crowned Mr. and Miss AGLA 2022. (Photo via Facebook)

Sunday, August 14
7-9 p.m.
Freddie’s Beach Bar & Grill
555 23rd Street S
Arlington, Va.
$10 donation requested
Facebook

Join a fundraiser for a good cause: a college scholarship for an outstanding Arlington County Public High School senior. Also, the 2022 Mr. and Miss AGLA will be crowned.


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Photos

PHOTOS: United Night OUT

Team DC and Federal Triangles honored at halftime

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2022 United Night OUT. (Washington Blade photo by Kevin Majoros)

United Night OUT 2022 was held on August 6 at Audi Field with DC United taking on their Atlantic Cup rivals, the New York Red Bulls. The two teams battled to a 0-0 scoreless draw in their 99th meeting. The LGBTQ community event was co-hosted by Team DC and the Federal Triangles Soccer club who were both honored at halftime.

(Washington Blade photos by Kevin Majoros)

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Arts & Entertainment

Abbi Jacobson engaged to her girlfriend Jodi Balfour

Last week, Jacobson and Balfour made their first red carpet debut at the Los Angeles premiere of A League of Their Own. 

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Photos from Bigstock.

Abbi Jacobson, the Emmy Award nominee, is engaged to her girlfriend Jodi Balfour. She confirmed the news to People as she celebrated with her costars in the upcoming Amazon Video series A League of Their Own.

D’Arcy Carden, the costar and Jacobson’s friend of 15 years, said, “It’s out. It’s great. We’re so happy. We love [Jodi].”

“Abbi’s engaged! Abbi’s engaged! Abbi’s engaged!” Chanté Adams, also a costar in the upcoming series, followed, “We’ve had to hide it for … No, I’m kidding.”

“No, you have not. You have not had to hide it.” Jacobson responded, blushing, “That was not a thing. It was not a secret.”

Last week, Jacobson and Balfour made their first red carpet debut at the Los Angeles premiere of A League of Their Own. 

The couple started dating in 2020 and celebrated their first anniversary last October. Jacobson shared some selfies of them on instagram: “One year with this incredible human. Don’t know how I got so lucky ❤️.” 

Likewise, Balfour wrote in the caption: “365 days of the best surprise of my life 💚.”

Jacobson officially came out as a bisexual in the interview with Vanity Fair. “I date men and women,” she said, adding as long as the person is “funny” and is “doing something they love.”

Balfour, a South African actress, is known for her performances on For All Mankind, Supernatural, The Crown and True Detective. 

Jacobson is both cast and co-creator of A League of Their Own, in which she would tell the stories of these LGBTQ women in the 1940s. She also talked about Maybelle Blair, a consultant of the show as well as a former All-American Girls Professional Baseball League player who came out at 95. 

“But Maybelle’s point of view, specifically on the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League experience, what that was like to play baseball at the time, what it was like to be a queer woman in the league, was pretty important for some of the stories we were telling. But at Tribeca, she had not come out publicly and that was so incredible. And don’t you feel like it’s like, ‘95!’ I’m like, ‘This show needs to come out.’ She came out because we made this show.”

The first episode of A League of Their Own will be released on August 12.

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