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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Drive-In Culture Premieres in Russia




The paint had barely dried on the big screen when Sergei roared in on his Harley Davidson for the opening night of Kinodrom, Russia's first-ever drive-in movie theater.


Although the drive-in as an institution has pretty much died out in America, where once it flourished, Kinodrom struck a responsive chord in Sergei, a bulky biker with a bandanna on his head.


"This place really kicks butt," he said. "There's never been anything like this in Moscow before. It's a great place to come on our bikes."


He looked around at the throng of Zhigulis, Jeeps and Mercedes parked before the modest screen. Instead of popcorn, the spectators munched cabbage pies as they waited for the movie to start.


There were a few other concessions to Moscow reality - such as the 11 p.m. starting time for the first feature due to the late summer sunset. The second show is at 2 a.m. - getting people out around 4 a.m., just in time to see the dawn glow on their way home.


Kinodrom, tucked in a corner of the Krylatskoye sports complex in northwestern Moscow, is the brainchild of financiers Alexander Volkov, and Vyacheslav Loshkaryov and nightclub entrepreneur Vasily Lavrov.


The grand opening Thursday went off with plenty of showbiz hype. Balloons were festooned across the 150-car drive-in area and film stars like Valentin Gaft made speeches to congratulate the partners while waiters dashed around on roller skates to serve the pastries and cabbage pies to visitors.


It didn't seem to matter that the American image they were chasing - of a jam-packed drive-in with necking couples fogging car windows - had long been deserted in the United States for the more sedate comforts of multiplex theaters and armchair video watching.


"It makes no difference whether drive-ins in the States have already become outdated," Volkov said. "There has never been a drive-in before in Russia, and we will cater for a whole new niche audience. Its not just for movie lovers, we will provide entertainment for those who like to party outdoors at night," he said.


It might have mattered more, however, that many of the spectators had arrived unprepared and confused by the more technical matter of how to actually hear the movie.


After paying a New York-style entrance fee of 195 rubles ($8) per person, customers were told to tune their car radios to a certain frequency to pick up the soundtrack. Those without radios were left a little annoyed.


Sasha twiddled knobs on his radio until the sound quality was perfect and stretched back next to his girlfriend in his black Jeep to the American sci-fi thriller "Virus," Vasya in the Zhiguli next to him was having problems.


"The viewing is great, but the sound could be a bit louder," he said, straining to hear the faint sounds emanating from the open window of the Jeep. Sergei the biker, however, was completely out of luck.


Others were put off by the cost. "I don't think I'm going to be able to afford the entrance fee," said Alexander, 20. "I can watch these films on video at home."


"I'd come here for the girls and the beer, though," his friend Boris put in.


The project was set up at breakneck speed by the three partners who, Volkov said, conceived the idea just last winter.


Volkov insisted Thursday that the complex's sparse infrastructure - the 17-by-9 meter screen, the metal projector booth on stilts and the rather makeshift outdoor cafe - had been in place weeks before. But up in the projector booth, cinema engineer Lev Telichko had a different story to tell.


"The day before yesterday there was absolutely nothing here," he said, waving his arm at the drive-in area, formerly the parking lot for Krylatskoye's velodrome. "They only finished painting the screen five hours ago."


But Telichko was hopping from one foot to the other and stroking his gray beard in delight as the projector rolled.


"I graduated from the State Institute of Cinema Engineering 35 years ago, just when drive-ins were beginning in America. I saw pictures of them then, but I never dreamed I'd be opening one here," he said.


Oleg Vasenin, the PR manager for the Arabella Premiere theater group, said Western drive-in experts they had contacted said it would be impossible to create a drive-in so quickly.


The group claim they received no outside investment, but wouldn't say how much the project cost to build.


Volkov formerly worked as a film and equipment distributor for an array of Moscow movie theaters, and Lavrov has opened 16 nightclubs in the capital in the past five years.


Loshkaryov said, "This is just a hobby for me. But its also a dream I had 20 years ago come true."


He described himself as a financier, but wouldn't say just what other projects he had been involved in. The partners said they were hoping for sponsorship deals from catering firms, car accessory companies and even condom manufacturers.


"We want to introduce people to a nighttime way of life. Everything gets very stuffy here in the summer, but here people can party in the open air. We can pick up the crowds that sit bored on the steps of Manezh Square at night," Volkov said.


When asked if the possibility of a hundred couples making out in his new drive-in bothered him, Volkov merely shrugged. "It happens in America, so it could happen here. We might even sell condoms," he laughed.


Even the team of guards hired to guard the facility said they would keep a discreet distance. "People can stay here as long as they like," said Alexander Shutov, the manager of the security squad. "We certainly won't be disturbing them unless they start any trouble."