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Local drive-in needs votes to stay in business

Hundreds of drive-in movie theaters are in a race against the clock, with just months left to make the costly upgrade to digital. A contest sponsored by Honda, though, could keep a local theater in business — with your help.

By 7:30 p.m. on Friday, the line was already forming at the Galva Autovue Drive-In, where families came to watch a double feature of “Planes” and “Smurfs 2.”

“It’s good family memories, good family fun. At the movies, you go and sit in the theater, and you have to be quiet. Here, we can run around and play before and have family time,” said visitor Andrea Haga.

Dozens of cars arrived in the middle of a corn field, paying a small price for a piece of Americana.

“You’re not sitting in a seat, you’ve got the outside and everything, and so, I think it’s a different experience that should stick around,” said movie-goer Ryan Carl.

But technology could soon kill the Autovue Drive-In.

“Just like your 35 mm cameras have gone by the wayside, and everyone’s got digital cameras now, the studios in Hollywood have pushed for theaters to convert to digital projection,” said Autovue owner Justin West.

For West to upgrade from 35 millimeter film, it would cost roughly $70,000 per screen. West says that figure is nearly impossible for a business like his, open only on weekends for four to five months a year.

“If you don’t make the conversion, and Hollywood stops making 35 millimeter prints — you’re done, you can’t show any movies,” said West.

Besides searching for used digital projectors and hoping studios will keep making the films, West has one last hope — a contest. Honda is donating digital projectors to five drive-ins across the country, and the Autovue is in the running.

To West, though, the contest means much more than money.

“There are only 350 drive-ins across the USA. So, even if I don’t win it, that means there are going to be five drive-ins, regardless, that are going to be able to survive,” said West.

Another local theater, Sterling’s Midway Drive-In, is also entered in the contest.

Voting is open until September 9, 2013. You can vote daily by going online to ProjectDriveIn.com or by texting the message “VOTE 50″ to 444-999.