How SF's historic movie theaters formed a drive-in perfect for the Bay Area

How SF's historic movie theaters formed a drive-in perfect for the Bay Area

Photo of Amanda Bartlett

Another drive-in theater is coming to San Francisco — and some of the city’s most beloved movie houses are behind it.

The Balboa, the Roxie as well as the Vogue are joining forces with the historic Pier 70 site to develop a new outdoor cinema series, “Dinner and a Drive-in,” which is slated to begin Oct. 17 and benefits nonprofit organization La Cocina. Tickets are $65 per car and include dinner for two (though meal packages can be purchased for up to 5 people) and the space holds up to 46 vehicles, which will be marked in socially distanced spots.

The lineup begins with “Blade Runner: The Final Cut." Producer Corey Tong, who advised Pier 70 on the series in partnership with Dominic Phillips, says the sci-fi cult classic admittedly falls outside of the otherwise Bay Area-centric programming, but was “especially suitable for the site itself,” given Pier 70’s industrial landscape as well as the dystopian skies recently experienced by the city.

“It actually pulls and draws upon a lot of the film’s futuristic ideas of what the future would be like. In many ways, the physical site is almost the embodiment of what is described or portrayed in ‘Blade Runner,’” Tong told SFGATE over the phone on Wednesday afternoon. “It is sandwiched between a slice of a hill as well as several buildings under renovation or restoration and it has the feel of a vast, urban dense space. We all thought it was a really, really dramatic way to open the series.”

Located on the waterfront, the 28-acre site has been under active construction during the shelter-in-place order. In the middle of it is a stretch of pavement that typically serves as a parking lot for construction workers during the week. Now, it will be converted into a drive-in theater for at least three weekends.

“Having that much open space in San Francisco is really rare, and thinking about what was happening during COVID, we wanted to find a way to utilize it,” said Pier 70’s creative director, Marcy Coburn. “Everything will come in and go out at the end of the weekend so we can make sure we have things cleared for construction by Monday morning.”

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Family-run food truck Mi Morena will be serving meals as part of the program, dishing out Mexican street tacos and guisados in collaboration with La Cocina. Since March, more than 85 percent of the nonprofit’s partner restaurants were forced to furlough nearly all of their staff.

"Since traditional ways of doing business have disappeared, combining resources and our collective creativity as a community to support each other defines this event,” La Cocina’s Consuelo Reyes Lopez said in a statement.

The series will continue with the popular Oakland-set drama “Blindspotting” on Oct. 24, as well as the 1978 remake of the landmark San Francisco horror film “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” on Halloween. They'll be projected onto a pop-up screen that’s 90 times brighter than a standard film projector, according to Coburn. Sound will be played through FM car stereos, but portable rental radios can be purchased for an additional $12. Walk-in guests, bikes and dogs won’t be permitted entry, though the organizers of the series are developing future plans to accommodate guests without a car.

“I think San Francisco still lends itself to a lot of potential outdoor areas,” said Tong, who is a local filmmaker and the former director of CAAMFest. “There are plenty of opportunities for drive-ins or outdoor screenings in parks, or urban spaces, or alleyways. I believe that as the pandemic becomes more manageable, there’s going to be a lot of hunger for this. This drive-in is one of several that could really unfold. We have to be as nimble and innovative as we can at bringing in these great cultural assets and keeping them alive in the bay.”

Pier 70 is located in San Francisco’s Potrero Point Neighborhood. To enter the drive-in, guests should arrive at the intersection of 22nd and Illinois Street. For more information, visit Pier 70’s website

Amanda Bartlett is an SFGATE culture reporter. Email: amanda.bartlett@sfgate.com | Twitter: @byabartlett