A balmy night, a friendly crowd, a night sky freckled with stars and a classic outdoor movie: What more could you want?
I was casting about for family-friendly things to do in the area last week when I came upon a bright yellow flyer at the Shoppes at Farmington Valley advertising the center's upcoming movie nights.
According to the schedule, the free outdoor movies include "The Wizard of Oz,'' "Shrek the Third" and "Ratatouille." A different flick will be shown at dusk every Saturday night from now till Aug. 30.
Long a tradition in Europe, outdoor movies have become a summertime staple in big cities throughout the United States. Detroit, Cleveland and Chicago are among the dozens of places that show films in public parks. In Washington, the Mall becomes a giant, open air screening room every Monday night in July and August. And in New York City's Bryant Park, movie lovers begin staking out blanket space hours before the film rolls.
Smaller towns from Colorado to Connecticut are also discovering that they can promote a sense of community and bring people with little more than some projection equipment and a patch of grass. West Hartford tried the idea in 2005, showing "The Incredibles" on the lawn outside the Faxon branch library.
Like the weekly farmer's markets that have sprung up everywhere, it's an old-world idea that captures vaguely nostalgic notions of small-town life, before the arrival of the 20-screen multiplex.
Except here's the twist: These movies are being screened at newfangled lifestyle centers such as the Shoppes. (East of the river, the Promenade Shops at Evergreen Walk also hosts a movie night on Fridays.)
Drive-in theaters have largely disappeared from the American landscape; outdoor movies are closest most kids will get to that experience these days. So bring a lawn chair or a blanket and a bucket of popcorn and get ready to enjoy the show.