Film crews descended on the Mahoning Drive-In on Saturday as part of Honda's "Project Drive-In," a nationwide campaign by Honda Motor Company to raise awareness of the difficulties many drive-ins face.

Starting next year, new films will be released exclusively on digital film. All movie theaters must convert to digital film projectors, or they will be unable to offer the latest movies.

Much of the Mahoning Drive-In's hopes for remaining open hinge on Project Drive-In, which is giving at least five new Christie digital projectors to drive-ins throughout the country. These drive-ins will be chosen by online voting.

"It all hinges on this project," said Kurt Fisher, the technical director at the Mahoning Drive-In.

He noted that the drive-in is nearly certain to close if they do not win a projector. The drive-in's large screen the second largest in the country makes this conversion a huge financial hurdle.

"Other theaters have gone digital, but they have a much smaller screen and the projectors can cost one-half of what we must pay," said Fisher, who estimated that purchasing and installing a digital project could cost the theater up to $85,000.

"This is the first time ever, in 65 years of operation, that the drive-in has an otherwise unsurmountable hurdle to continuous operation the digital projector," Fisher added.

Film and drive-in enthusiasts gathered Saturday at the outdoor theater to support the drive-in and for a chance to be interviewed for Project Drive-In. Several families were filmed while waiting for the night's movies to begin.

"The kids have been looking forward to Turbo," said Connie Nerwine of Effort, who brings her family and labradoodle to the drive-in several times each year. "It's nice to sit outside. In the summer, it seems like the place to go."

She noted that before being interviewed by Honda, she wasn't aware of the drive-in's struggles.

"It would be disastrous if it closed," she said. "Our kids are still young, and a lot of the kids here tonight are very young. Hopefully we can continue to come here."

"This is part of who we are baseball, hot dogs, and drive-ins," said Cheryl Honchen of Lehighton, who was also interviewed by Honda. She attends the local drive-in a few times each year with friends.

"It's a chance to get together, because we don't get together often," added her friend, Carly Rickert of Lansford. "We like being outdoors. I like to be able to roam around."

Fisher is hopeful that the project will better inform local residents of the drive-in's struggles, and rally enough interest to get moviegoers and locals to vote for the drive-in when Project Drive-In launches publicly.

"This will hopefully show people that we are serious, that this is the last opportunity for them to support the Drive-In," he said. "Without their support and their votes, the drive-in faces closure."

The Mahoning Drive-In in rich in local history. It has been opened since 1947 and in continuous operation for 65 years. Its 65-foot high screen is the second-largest in the country, and was built and designed by Bethlehem Steel Corporation. It is the only known drive-in screen to be designed by Bethlehem Steel.

Representatives from Honda were unavailable as of press time, but sources have indicated that the chance to vote for which drive-ins receive a free digital projector will start soon. The full scope of Project Drive-In will be disclosed in August.

Information will be posted on the Mahoning Drive In's website, www.mahoningdrivein.com [2], and their Facebook page as it becomes available.