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Giant Outdoor Movie Screens in Peru, Illinois
by Caleb Mitchell
Inflatable movie screen grows to 26 feet high, 40 feet long in about 12 minutes
Several cars slowed down Friday afternoon in Centennial Park to watch a giant black mass grow from the ground.
One moment it was just a flat piece of plastic. However, in just minutes - 12 minutes to be exact - a huge black and white screen dwarfing trees was standing erect.
The Peru Parks and Recreation District rented the movie screen for a Friday showing of "Matilda." Nearing dusk, families and even a few couples on dates brought lawn chairs and blankets to enjoy the cool summer night at the screening, run by a local family-owned business.
"It's cool. I've never seen anything like it," said Mary Hammerich of Peru, who brought her 7-year-old daughter Taylor. "It's just like years ago at the old drive-in."
LaSalle-Peru residents Brian and Carrie Brown are fans of drive-in movies, too. They grew up when outdoor cinemas were popular. They now own Sunset Cinemas Inc., renting and operating inflatable movie screens, which bring the old drive-in movie atmosphere to any open area.
The Browns and their three children started in the movie business just about a year ago, and already it's paying off.
"We've been booked solid," Carrie Brown said, estimating the company will have done about 60 events by October.
She said the whole idea originated about 10 years ago when her husband, Brian, saw a group in Washington, D.C., enjoying an outdoor flick. Brian, an engineer, then started studying how it would be possible to bring that kind of entertainment on the road.
The couple then found a company in Utah that sold the inflatable screens, and the Browns knew they had something special. They showed their first movie in April and have been busy ever since.
They have two screens. The super-screen, with a projection area 40 feet long and about 23 feet high, was used at Peru's event. Carrie Brown said the screen is large enough for about 4,000 people to watch comfortably.
Though it looks massive, it can be deflated in seconds. Carrie Brown said that was one of the reasons they chose the screens.
"They're very safe," Carrie Brown said.
The other screen is 16 feet wide and about 9 feet tall and is usually used for schools and private or indoor functions.
Carrie Brown said she's looked for other portable movie screen companies in the area but could only find one in southern Illinois and one in the Chicago suburbs.
The family travels all over the Midwest projecting movies for clients, mostly family-friendly pictures rated G, PG or PG-13. The movie choice is up to the client, but it must be licensed to be shown in a public place.
More information is available by calling (815) 224-2991 or visiting the Web site at www.moviesatsunset.com.
Carrie Brown said the experience is fun for the whole family, which rang true Friday night.
Peru resident Kathy Pyszka and her family were among the moviegoers, and she had only one regret.
"I'm just sorry they didn't start this earlier in the summer," said Kathy Pyszka.