There is now a sequel to the drive-in disruption at the Grey Eagle Drive-In in Alberta after a surprise announcement from event organizers on the weekend.
On Sunday morning, the president of the Event Group announced that the drive-in will be back showing films on May 19 after being advised to shut down on Thursday.
Dave Howard said he was informed by Tsuut’ina Nation on Saturday that as a sovereign First Nation, they have the authority to determine what activities take place on their lands.
“I think the safety of the nation has always been first and foremost. I think the nation made a ruling that they do self-govern and they are a sovereign nation and they are able to put forward this decision, and we are thrilled they have put their faith in us,” Howard said on Sunday.
“We have incredible safety protocols put in place, and we are confident we will be able to deliver an entertaining and safe experience,” he added.
“Our team is grateful for the Tsuut’ina Nation giving us the approval to get back to showing films at the Grey Eagle Drive-In. The Event Group, and our partners, Supervision and the Grey Eagle Resort and Casino, have put together a one-of-a-kind entertainment experience.”
On Thursday, people were turned away from seeing movies in their cars at the Grey Eagle Drive-In. Less than two hours before the movie was set to start, the organizer was told he would have to shut down.
“It was frustrating. We had sold-out crowds Friday and Saturday. We didn’t get word until an hour and a half before, so we had to shut down and turn people away at the gates. It’s embarrassing,” Howard said.
The drive-in, which is located near the Grey Eagle Casino on the Tsuut’ina First Nation, held four screenings last week with no problems, but on Thursday, organizers were advised by Indigenous Services that all drive-in events including movies were prohibited in regions with high COVID-19 case numbers.
The Sunset Drive-In in High River was about to show the first movie of the year on Friday night, but when the owners of the non-profit got wind of the Grey Eagle Drive-In closure, they decided to contact Alberta Health Services for clarity and were advised the new rules prohibit drive-ins.
“There was no communication whatsoever. We have been advertising for weeks,” said High River Sunset Drive-In co-owner Roger Hamel.
Hamel said he felt awful about having to turn away 85 ticket holders that came from all over the province to watch movies.
“It’s extremely frustrating. We turned people away on Friday night that came from Edmonton, Lethbridge, Medicine Hat, Calgary and High River — families that had rented rooms and called it their staycation,” Hamel said.
Half of the proceeds from tickets sold at the Sunset Drive-In go to local charities, according to Hamel. He hopes the restrictions can be changed to reflect how safe he feels outdoor movies are.
“You need to stay in your car unless you need to go to the washroom. Even with the food trucks, you text the food truck and they deliver the food to your vehicle,” Hamel said.
A spokesperson for Alberta Health said the current provincial rules prohibit drive-in entertainment because of the risk of people leaving their cars to mingle.
But there is an exception for drive-in worship services.
“Generally speaking, the current restrictions are bending the curve by limiting opportunities for people to interact whenever possible, including at drive-in-type events,” said Alberta Health spokesperson Brendan Procé in a statement on Sunday.
“Drive-in entertainment or other events are currently prohibited due to the risk of people leaving their cars to mingle compared to simply watching a movie at home. This measure is temporary but necessary to help bend down the curve one more time.”
Howard said he hopes the provincial government will consider the Grey Eagle Drive-In situation when it comes to other outdoor entertainment.
“I really hope the Alberta government will look at this lead and understand that we are talking about a safe environment to show films,” Howard said.
“I hope that this opening will send a message to the Alberta government that we are open for business and we should be able to open. Let some entrepreneurs get some work done.”
On Sunday, the Alberta government’s website was updated to include information about drive-in events (except for worship services) for high-case areas.