The show must go on: Docutime drive-in film festival supports the arts

WILMINGTON, NC (WWAY) — Throughout the pandemic, many have missed out on some of their favorite activities like gathering with friends, going to the movies, and enjoying the arts.

But on Saturday, locals got to enjoy one tradition that’s been a Wilmington staple for years.

On that cold January night, 84 cars gathered in a dark parking lot. Their passengers gazed up at the giant screen in anticipation… for the 19th annual Docutime Film Festival.

“For 19 years, we have been partnering with Paula Haller,” explained Mary Bradley, WHQR’s Director of Development. “(She) is the creative genius for Docutime, and putting on a one day film festival, Or, in this case, a one night film festival.”

Haller was a member of the International Documentary Association in Los Angeles. When she moved to Wilmington, she saw an oppurtunity.

“And I got here and I said, wow! We could do this here. And the rest is history,” said Haller.

And every year since, she’s helped curate the Docutime Film Festival. The event normally hosts hundreds of people, providing food, encouraging discussions, and showing documentaries in Kenan Auditorium all day until this year.

“All day,” said Haller. “It’s an all day event. So this is… we had to think of something else, right? Isn’t this great? A drive-in!”

A pop-up drive-in where documentary lovers could park, tune into an FM radio station, and enjoy the arts from the safety of their own car.

“It’s a little chilly, but we have an almost sold out crowd,” according to Bradley, “which shows how much folks want to be out and how much they love Docutime.”

As dozens of cars crammed into the parking lot, I wondered what has kept this event going for so many years? Why is it still successful in the midst of a pandemic?

“I can tell you why,” Haller eagerly replied. “Because people love documentaries. There have been people, I’m not kidding, about 50 percent have been coming all 18 years. And this is the 19th year, and I hope they’re part of the cars here.”

People gathering for the love of documentary films, a need for normalcy, and support of the arts.

“If the arts disappeared, I mean what are we going to do,” Abigail Beck, UNCW’s Patron Services Manager asked. “I mean, that’s how we learn so much about what’s going on in the world.”

Docutime showed local short films and Linda Ronstadt’s The Sound of My Voice for only $15 dollars. And with any luck, they hope to do so for the 20th time next year.

From their cars, documentary lovers watched through a window into others’ lives, and for a moment, forgot the troubles in their own.

Categories: Local, New Hanover, News, Top Stories

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