Ocala Drive-In theater wins new projector in nationwide contest

Social media, word of mouth ignite online campaign to save theater

By Paul Giorgio - Producer

OCALA, Fla. - The Ocala Drive-In opened in 1948 and it looks like it will be around for quite a bit longer.

The theater learned Monday morning that it will be getting a new digital projector courtesy of Honda's Project Drive-In.

Owner John Watzke said the theater faced an uncertain future as traditional 35mm film will stop being produced later this year.

Drive-Ins are considered the last hold out for traditional film. Many are facing possible closure as new movies will only be released digitally.

Watzke says a  new digital projector would run close to $80,000--a cost he couldn't afford.

Honda motor company sponsored a campaign to help nine theaters across the country with the transition. Those receiving the most online votes would win new digital projectors.

According to the contest website, 2.5 million people voted nationwide, creating awareness that there are only 368 drive-in's left and all of them in the same position as Ocala's.

Watzke said he could hardly sleep last night waiting for news. His phone rang at precisely at 8 a.m. 

"How you doing today?" Watzke said the voice on the other end of the line asked.  "Well it's about to get a lot better." 

And with that, the theater will have new life. Watzke says he plans to make more improvements to the property now that he knows its future is secure. 

It could be 4-6 weeks before the projector arrives.

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