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Cottage View Drive-In documentary up for Regional Emmy

South Washington County Telecommunications Commission producer Justin Atkinson's documentary about the Cottage View Drive-In is up for a Regional Emmy award and other recognition. Submitted photo

Justin Atkinson has fond memories of summer nights spent beneath the big screen at the Cottage View Drive-In.

Atkinson recalls many trips from his home in Woodbury to the drive-in along Highway 61, where he and his family took in movies under the stars beginning in the late 1980s.

"It's very near and dear to my heart," said Atkinson, now a Cottage Grove resident.

Atkinson, a South Washington County Telecommunications Commission producer, last year used that personal history as inspiration as he went behind the camera to tell the story of the iconic drive-in, which is winding down its 45th year.

The result was a nine-minute documentary, "Cottage View Drive-In," that was broadcast on south Washington County cable TV and is up for a Regional Emmy award later this month.

Atkinson decided last year to put together a story on the drive-in. Timing was a factor: For the past several years there has been increased speculation that the drive-in property would be sold for development, putting an end to the local landmark's long run. Atkinson knew that was a possibility, so did not want to miss the opportunity to tell the story of a place that was "a part of my upbringing," he said.

"It really inspired me to want to get into film production or TV production," he said of the drive-in. "I just felt like I had something I wanted to express about my thoughts on what that place has meant."

Atkinson worked on the project for about three months in the summer of 2010. He gathered video footage and old photographs, researched Cottage View's history and conducted interviews, including with drive-in owner Jerry Herringer.

The documentary, first broadcast on local cable TV last summer, is archived on the commission's website at

Atkinson's story will compete against three others in a Regional Emmy category for video features about historical, cultural or nostalgic subjects. The other entries were produced by Fox Sports North, KQDS-TV in Duluth and KARE-TV in the Twin Cities.

Atkinson said he's "going up against some heavy hitters."

Fran Hemmesch, the cable commission's administrator, applauded Atkinson's work on the drive-in story.

"I think he could possibly win," she said.

The cable commission last was nominated for a Regional Emmy for producer Ann Simpson's story on the now-defunct Yeshiva High School in Cottage Grove. Atkinson helped Simpson on that project.

Atkinson, who is 29, said he will not attend the Regional Emmy awards Sept. 24 in Minneapolis. Instead, he will be with colleagues in San Francisco, where his drive-in story and other work by the cable commission will compete for 10 awards from the National Association of Telecommunications Officers and Advisors.

Regardless of the outcome of the upcoming awards ceremonies, Atkinson said he was happy to share the story of a significant part of his upbringing. He still recalls that the first movie he saw on the outdoor screen was 1989's "Batman."

"Even though we lived in Woodbury, it's about a 10-minute drive and the (homemade) popcorn's still warm when you get there," he said of the drive-in's attraction. "It was just kind of in our backyard."

"It's always meant a lot to me," he added. "I thought it'd be fun to share this with as many people in the community as I could."

Scott Wente

Scott Wente has been editor at the South Washington County Bulletin since 2011. He worked as a reporter at other Forum Communications newspapers from 2003 to 2011.

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