For the drive-in theatre at Manitou Beach, one of the few still operating in Saskatchewan, the big screen lights were beginning to flicker with the fear they’d go dim forever. The iconic theatre has been a staple of community entertainment for decades, but it’s faced a series of technical and operational challenges over the past few years.
Fortunately, Watrous and Manitou Beach hospitality business owner Lane Manson stepped forward with a plan. Along with the Watrous / Manitou Marketing Board, community volunteers, and the Village of Manitou Beach, the reels will keep rolling this summer. The regular farmers market will also continue on the site.
The well-known area entrepreneur took up the torch when it looked like the drive-in might fade into the history books.
“I wasn’t particularly thinking I needed something else to do, but I just felt like if somebody didn’t do something, it was very much at risk of not happening,” Manson said.
A projector malfunction the year before, ensuing challenges with repair and replacement, and an apparent vacuum in management for the year led to the woes. Manson says he made some phone calls to potential allies to see what could be done. One of the first calls was to Moonlight Movies, a business that specializes in cinema entertainment, to see if they could look after the projector and movie distribution. The company had operated the projection side at Manitou Beach in the past.
“Working with the studios is an issue – that's kind of out of my capacity. As that process evolved, I thought we need somebody to sell popcorn and pop.”
Along with his business duties, Manson is also the chair of the Marketing Board, so he reached out to some colleagues to see how they might help. Also with the Board, Mukur Desai joined forces with Manson to help provide solutions for the concession operation.
The revitalized drive-in will be dubbed the Salty Cinema Drive-In. There are opportunities for the group to receive funding through non-profit charitable grants as the venture will operate under the umbrella of a registered non-profit organization.
“The non-profit has an arrangement with the Village of Manitou Beach, and we’ve got operating agreements between Moonlight Movies and Makur to help get shows on the screen there,” explained Manson.
Ultimately, Manson hopes that the non-profit organization can continue to fundraise and build to purchase its own projector and provide the dollars for refurbishment and upkeep. The development of a sustainable business model through this process might allow for the group to step away and new local ownership to come on board.
In the meantime, Manson and the group understands the importance of coming forward to keep the drive-in open for area residents and as part of a unique bundle of attractions that anchor the Watrous and Manitou Beach tourist area.
“With the drive-in, if something like that sits closed for a year or two years – every day it’s not open makes it harder to get back open. When I look at the components of the Watrous and Manitou Beach community, I always have this opinion that the whole is worth more than the sum of the parts. The unique offerings we have all work together to make it a place people want to visit.”
Manson is hoping the cinema will be open the weekend of June 9. He’s hoping the playbill for June and July will be available shortly. In the meantime, residents and visitors can rest assured that a summer staple of entertainment at the Beach will go on this year.