They roared in on snowmobiles towing covered sleighs designed for carrying children rather than making them. A few arrived on kicksleds and a majority made sure to grab a cup or thermos of hot chocolate at the concession stand to go with their popcorn.
They then settled into seats where the cushioning consisted of a layer of snow and – with a blissful absence of previews and ads –the opening credits of “Ice Age: Continental Drift” blared out for what’s believed to be Longyearbyen’s first drive-in movie.
“I was just sitting at home one evening bored and I got the idea,” said Lise Hagen, a kindergarten teacher who volunteered to be a polar bear guard during the movie.
Her eyes were on the screen for enough time to keep up with the plot, but every few minutes she wandered a hundred meters or so away from the lights and sounds of the theater behind Huset to see if any uninvited viewers were trying to sneak in.
Hagen suggested the idea to Silve M. Hagen, project leader for Aktiv i Friluft, which organizes a variety of community-oriented outdoor activities. She said the screening took place last Tuesday to coincide with the first sunrise in Longyearbyen after the three-and-a-half month polar night.
“There’s nothing happening when the twilight is gone, so if you want to find something that’s a tradition you need a special thing,” she said.
The audience didn’t have to cope with indoor nuisances like ringing cell phones or the odor of someone who snuck a tuna fish sandwich past the ushers – or even the type drive-in distractions such as tots getting to watch the teens in the adjacent vehicle doing what currently has the euphemism of “chill.” But there was the roar and fumes of snowmobiles to cope with since the theater was essentially in the middle of one of the main “roads” into town.
“The film setting is pretty hard when it’s cold outside and with the snowmobiles,” Hagen said. “It’s a bit loud, but that’s all part of the fun.”
The evening actually wasn’t that cold – especially for February – at a few degrees below zero Celsius and mild wilds. But sitting still for nearly two hours – the 88-minute film stopped playing several times to equipment glitches organizers attributed to the outdoor use of the equipment – left young viewers like local elementary school student Ronja Skaug “a little cold.”
Still, she said given the choice between watching a movie from the warm and cushioned seats of Kulturhuset or outside the building that was the movie house for decades until a few years ago, she’d opt for the snow and fumes.
“Because it’s outside all can come,” she said.