By Kayla Carter
The future of Carter County’s iconic Stateline Drive-In theater depends on community support through online votes that could secure a digital projector.
Otherwise, the only thing listed under “Coming Attractions” could be the word “Closed.”
A digital upgrade is not necessarily something Stateline owner Andy Wetzel wants, but rather needs to keep providing family-oriented entertainment to all who enjoy his theater.
“Near the end of this year, the film companies are going to completely do away with 35mm film,” Wetzel said.
The only way Wetzel can show movies right now is with the traditional film projector.
But that tradition is fading to black: “Everyone is going digital,” Wetzel said. “It’s a humongous undertaking.”
Stateline Drive-In has served Carter County residents and people in surrounding areas since 1947; Wetzel said he took over ownership of the theater in 1995.
Wetzel said a new projector to upgrade his historic theater would cost about $80,000, and other renovations associated with the switch to digital would cost around $20,000.
However, Project Drive-In, sponsored by Honda, contacted Wetzel recently to take part in its crusade to help save this nostalgic form of entertainment.
“An American icon is vanishing,” the Project Drive-In website states. “We can help save it.”
According to projectdrivein.com, a majority of drive-in movie theaters face closure in less than three months because of the cost of switching to digital projectors.
The project is in place to try to help five threatened theaters stay alive.
“We want to preserve this iconic part of American car culture. So, we’re taking the first step by starting a drive-in fund and donating five digital projectors,” the website states. “Your vote decides where they go.”
If he doesn’t obtain a digital projector through the online voting project, Wetzel said he will more than likely have to close the theater for good.
“If we don’t do this, the theater is closing; it’s done,” Wetzel said. “I can’t afford it.”
Wetzel said the cost of a projector is the main thing standing in his way. He said he would gladly pay for the remaining upgrades to the facility in order to keep the theater going.
The way to help Wetzel is to vote every day for his theater, which was assigned the number 48 out of about 80 total participating theaters.
“The five people that have the most votes, get the five projectors,” Wetzel said. “It’s pretty simple.”
Anyone interested in voting can go online to http://projectdrivein.com/#vote_48 or text 444-999 with the message vote48.
“You can vote every day up until Sept. 9,” Wetzel said.
Other ways to help the overall cause at projectdrivein.com is to pledge to visit a local drive-in theater this season, donate money to Project Drive-In and download items to display on social media platforms.