The Big Art Drive-in is returning for its third year. PHOTO: JAIME VEDRES

While drive-in cinemas are often associated with nostalgia, one art installation company is hoping to revitalize the experience with modern technology. 

Big Art — a company dedicated to designing, building and touring interactive public art — is ready to bring back an immersive drive-in cinema experience that includes large LED video screens, concert lighting and special effects. 

Calgarians will be able to watch films like Joker, Encanto, Dune and A Quiet Place in the drive-in cinema, but with augmentations like choreographed pyrotechnic explosions timed with action scenes and CO2 effects producing clouds of colour. For this year’s limited run, the Big Art Drive-in will be located on the campus of the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology (SAIT), with a view overlooking the city. 

Paul Magnuson, chief imagineer at Big Art, says the company had been searching for ways to make live entertainment happen during the pandemic, but many major venues in Calgary rejected the idea, making it difficult to get off the ground.

“They wouldn’t listen, so we did it ourselves. And we found a great partner in TELUS Spark, who also takes chances and risks.”

Big Art’s chief imagineer describes the drive-in cinema as less of a challenge and more of an interest. PHOTO SUPPLIED BY: PAUL MAGNUSON

Two years later, the Big Art Drive-in is returning for its third summer, this time partnering with SAIT. 

“SAIT had been talking to us last year and they were very excited to be a part of the project, so that was the easy part,” Magnuson says. 

As for developing the format, Magnuson finds the process easier than the previous two years but equally as exciting.

“We have a strong production background so I think producing an event like this is less of a challenge, more of an interest.”

Magnuson acknowledges that while drive-in cinemas gained newfound popularity as a socially-distanced way to watch movies, it is unclear if that will remain. 

“We’re banking on it,” Magnuson says. “What we’re hoping is people know we’re a little different, we’re trying to bring back an affordable metro drive-in which is very rare.”

He believes the Big Art Drive-in is one of the few city centre drive-ins in the country, which makes it an uncommon experience even without special effects. 

“I want it to be very uniquely Calgarian. I want it to be something that other cities crave, and I think that we have the talent to put it together.”

Conversations with patrons in the last two years have shown Magnuson that drive-ins aren’t always a nostalgic concept and for many, a new experience altogether. 

“Anyone I think under 25, maybe even under 30, many of them who grew up inside Calgary, had never been to a drive-in, period. So they don’t even know the baseline, let alone the augmentations we’re providing.” 

Magnuson says Big Art aims to have bigger, better augmentations every year. PHOTO: JAIME VERDES

This year, Magnuson promises lots of fire and pyrotechnic effects to accompany the films. He says Big Art is constantly trying to make their art installations more innovative. 

“We want to be something very unique, not only to Calgary, but to Canada, and even North America,” Magnuson says. “So I really think that support of new, interesting and exciting arts and culture initiatives basically enriches the lives of every Calgarian.”

This is why Magnuson is open to collaborating with arts and culture organizations in Calgary and hopes they will reach out. 

“A rich culture involves a large and vibrant arts sector, and I think all of us who live in Calgary want that.”

As the Big Art Drive-in’s 10-day run approaches, Magnuson is also excited for the years to come. 

“This year, you’ll see us settle into our new home, find our stride and in 2023, we most likely will push for bigger, better augmentations of films.” 

The Big Art Drive-in will be open from August 11 to 21, and tickets can be purchased on their website.

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