Return of the Santa Fe Big Screen

Motorama drive-in soft opens at The Downs

A number of people have told me lately that desperately missing big screen movies is a waste of time.

"You can stream at home," they wrongly say, bespittled lips flailing wildly.

"But I can't help it," I tell them. "I just love the moviegoing experience."

This has been extra true since I was a kid. Every so often, my father would wake up and say "Who wants to go to the movies?!" to which my brother and I would scream "WE WANT TO GO SEE THE ROCKETEER!" or whatever else was playing. Point is: It was an event, an experience—the kind of thing that felt like a real outing and that still feels special to me to this day.

But as the pandemic has lain waste to all we hold dear—and I most certainly include cultural institutions like movie theaters on that list—intrepid souls out there are working to better our socially distant lives and bring us a taste of what the old world once was. Diatribes on how society must change aside, a comfort exists in doing some of the old things the old ways. Now, a new group of local event coordinators/businesspeople have come together to found Motorama at the Downs—a drive-in movie theater on the outskirts of town—there's at least one more place to seek comfort in Santa Fe.

That place is actually at The Downs on a 70-by-40-foot screen built up with shipping containers and projected upon by a piece of machinery that boasts 40,000 lumens according to co-founder and Events Coordinator Stephanie Ortega. Motorama hosted its soft grand opening over the weekend with a screening of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. I called Ortega to get the sweet and lowdown.

"The more research I've done, it seems like these drive-ins are popping up all over the country," Ortega tells SFR. "It's a nice way to social distance; you can be outside and, ultimately, we've had really positive support from the community and from the government. We've been working with Pojoaque Pueblo—The Downs is actually on Pojoaque land—and they're really excited to bring some life back to the Downs. Everyone's just happy to get back out and safely be around community—it's kind of perfect."

Ortega says the soft grand opening exceeded her small staff's expectations and, though no opening is without kinks, the event went more smoothly than she could have hoped.

"There's always going to be challenges, some expected, some unforeseen—you work through them. That's kind of the magic," she says. "And overall, the feedback we've gotten from guests…folks were just hanging. Lawn chairs, blankets; opening up their cars and everyone socially distanced. Safe. Overall, I think it was a success, but we wanted the challenges and the opportunities so we know how to 100% better ourselves."

Ortega's worked in events coordination for more than 15 years and calls the current era "interesting." It's hard to make plans for the future, she says, though Motorama is slated to run through Oct. 31 of this year. Beyond that, she says, it's just too soon to tell, but if community interaction is good, it's possible Motorama will ride again in the springtime.

As for upcoming films, this weekend's offerings include The Terminator on Thursday, Aug. 13; The Hunger Games on Friday, Aug. 14; 50 First Dates on Saturday, Aug. 15; and Captain Underpants on Sunday, Aug. 16. According to Ortega, the idea is to foster specific moviegoing nights: some for buds, some for dates, some for families. She doesn't know if the drive-in will screen newer releases just yet, but it's something she's working toward while the kickass throwbacks hit the screen.

Additionally, Motorama's pricing is more than fair and runs on a three-tiered system payable by the carload. There's the prime tier, which runs $40; the economy tier which runs $30 and the oversized vehicle tier, which puts taller cars and trucks toward the back but only runs $25. Assuming you bring five friends and/or family members, that's a deal and a half, but do note you can only buy tickets online through Eventbrite (click here to do that)—Motorama itself does not have a box office.

You will, however, find a concession stand with the popcorn/candy movie treats that are probably legally required at cinemas at this point (note: I'm joking, there's no law about that) and Ortega plans to have food trucks on hand for future screenings. At the soft opening, for example, the Jen's Diner-Taste of New Mexico truck served up that good stuff.

"We're also wanting to have Jambo [Hapa] in," Ortega says. "I really want to mention that the goal of us coming together—the goal of this entire project—is to bring something to the community, but also to offer something not only for the guests, but to open it up to our fellow vendors and to create work. Overall, it's to create a bigger sense of community and a beautiful experience for everyone."

Follow Motorama on Facebook for the most up-to-the-minute info.

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