Open-air cinema big hit in North Bay
If you're over 35 you remember drive-in movies. The primitive crackle out of the heavy metal speaker you hung from the driver's window sounded like something out of Edison's workshop.
But as a practical convenience for newly-licensed teenagers, as well as parents with a car full of kids, the drive-in was a necessity of post-war life.
While outdoor picture shows have all but disappeared from the landscape, Americans still have a fondness for experiencing films in a venue with snuggling room and overhead stars. Outdoor movies are experiencing a new wave of popularity across the country in commons, city parks and college campuses from New York and Chicago to Baltimore and Washington, D.C.
Inflatable screens, portable digital projectors and quality sound systems have made it easy for communities and non-profits to throw their own film nights, says Bill Verity, who has now added a booming Starry Movie Nights service to his Santa Rosa inflatable party-jump business. Verity this summer is providing the equipment for outdoor movies in Windsor, Santa Rosa, Petaluma and Cloverdale.
Family movie nights on the Town Green in Windsor already are under way, with Journey to the Center of the Earth as the next up on June 9.
Along the North Coast, open-air films have also become a popular draw at wineries, where vineyard views and the promise of a classy chardonnay or pinot noir are the trade-off for folding chairs and chilly evening temperatures.
Sterling Vineyards in Calistoga was one of the pioneers in the revival, running film classics from the Universal vault in a meadow bordered by vineyards and a hedge of azaleas. This year's four-film series opens Aug. 1 with Hitchcock's Shadow of a Doubt, in which small town Santa Rosa harbors a sinister secret. Other films lined up this year include another noir classic, The Big Clock, with Ray Milland, as well as American Graffiti, filmed in Petaluma, and Apollo 13.
Pip Jones, who oversees the Silver Screen Series for Sterling, recalls one moment that dramatically crystallizes the appeal of cinema al fresco. It was during a pivotal moment in вЂCasablanca.' Bogie was saying something poignant to Ingrid Bergman and just at that moment a big full moon slid up above the screen and everyone gasped вЂaaahhhh.'
It's very convivial, she says of the scene. There's something about sitting on the grass and listening to the crickets and the laughter of the people around you. It's a great inexpensive night out. People come in small groups or as a big family. We always try to throw in a few movies people may have heard of but haven't seen in a long time or haven't had a chance to show their kids.
This is the third year Moshin Vineyards between Forestville and Healdsburg has staged its Moshin Pictures series, an event that usually draws 30 to 40 film fans to folding chairs set up on their crush pad. Admission includes a glass of wine, although you can also buy more wine by the glass or bottle. If you're going for the popcorn with real butter, you may want to pair it with a chardonnay.
There's something about being outside that makes it kind of magical, said Amber Moshin, whose husband Rick founded the winery on Westside Road. We're in a rural area so you might see a shooting star or hear a peacock calling or coyotes howling.
Moshin kicks off the series June 20 with High Society, followed by Singin' in the Rain on July 11 and Pillow Talk, a Doris Day/Rock Hudson romp, on Aug. 1.
While wineries appeal to the sophisticates, many cities are getting into the act with cheap or free outdoor flickers geared to families.
Robin Harrington and pal Lisa Sides started Movies in the Park in Petaluma when their daughters were in kindergarten. Gaining permission from the city to set up at McNear Park at G & 11th streets, the venture is now a longstanding summer tradition.
Lisa and I wanted to make a community there where people could come down and basically just hang out. And we didn't want it to be something where the kids would be constantly coming up to their parents asking for money for this and that, said Harrington, who recoups her costs through sponsorships by local businesses. She also asks a donation of $4 per adult and $2 per child, but no one is turned away for lack of funds. Half of all proceeds go to the Polly Hannah Klaas Theater Renovation Project. This year Harrington is teaming up with COTS, which provides services to the homeless and hungry, to collect non-perishable food items.
Films are shown on the baseball field, with a kid's playground on the other side of a fence. Different community groups are invited to come and sell goodies like popcorn. The scene is comfortable and casual.
When people first come in there's a lot of excitement. People make a beeline for the front, said city of Petaluma Recreation Supervisor Jan Mandrell. Then as they spread out, the shoes come off and if it's a hot night out come the sodas and ice cream. Before long people are tossing around Frisbees. And once it gets a little dark everybody's got their glow sticks and flashlights. It's the one time when an entire family shows up and everybody actually talks to each other.
Mandrell said she knew the public was really comfortable with the wall-less setting when she watched one group proceed to pull a sofa out of their vehicle, drag it across the lawn and then plop down as if the park was their living room.
Verity said most communities like city rec departments, chambers of commerce or area businesses foot the bill because once you begin charging admission, the film distribution companies demand a large cut of the box office. Licensing fees to show a movie outdoors without admission generally run only $250 to $500.
Of course, California's deceptively cold summer nights are a downside. Movie-goers are urged to bring jackets and blankets. Verity said he keeps an eye on the weather and has managed to cancel to avoid getting caught in a downpour. But there was a night in Novato when a pounding wind savagely rattled the screen, built to withstand gusts of up to 45 mph. And there was the infamous night in Rohnert Park when the city sprinkler system went off smack in the middle of a showing.
That ended the movie, he lamented. Everybody got up and ran. Poof, they were gone.
Here's a list of outdoor movie nights around the North Bay:
Family Film on First series. City will close a block of E. First Street between Cloverdale Boulevard and Main Street and set up a screen. Bring folding chairs and blankets and and something soft to sit on. Street will close at 6 p.m. with movie at dusk. Street will re-open after 11 p.m. Tentatively, Hotel for Dogs on July 14; Mall Cop on July 28 and Rear Window on Aug. 11. Free. 894-4470.
Cotati Movies in the Park
Once-a-month free flickers in La Plaza Park. Summer series opens June 19 with The Incredible Mr. Limpet. On July 17 is Bye Bye Birdie, on Aug. 28 Angels in the Outfield and on Sept. 18 a film TBA. Barbecue and hot dogs along with candy, popcorn and coffee served by nonprofits. At dusk. 792-6600.
Moshin Vineyards Moshin Pictures
High Society on June 20, Singin' in the Rain on July 11 and Pillow Talk on Aug. 1. Shows start at dusk. $20 includes a glass of wine and all the popcorn you can eat although guests are welcome to bring their own snacks. No reservations necessary. 10295 Westside Road, between Healdsburg and Forestville. 433-5499, moshinvineyards.com or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Gunbun Summer Fun Film Fest
Attention Gen-Exers. Gundlach Bundschu Winery's annual Night Under the Stars taps hardcore '80s nostalgia with The Breakfast Club on Aug. 1, with a live band entertaining before showtime. Gates open at 7 p.m. 2000 Denmark St., Sonoma. For updated ticket prices and information call 939-3019, e-mail email@example.com.
Petaluma Movies in the Park
Catch Mamma Mia! on July 18, My Dog Skip on Aug. 15 and Disney's Robin Hood on Sept. 27. Movies play at dusk in McNear Park, located at 11th and G streets. Donation of $4 per adult and $2 per child is requested. Snacks and activities. 694-9888 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Howarth Park Friday Family Fun Night & Movie
Santa Rosa's family park keeps its popular attractions running to 8 p.m. on a discount along with other children's activities before showing a kid-friendly film at 8:30 p.m. on the lower lawn. June 27, July 11, July 25 and Aug. 8. 630 Summerfield Road. 543-3425.
Sterling Vineyards Silver Screen Series
Shadow of a Doubt shows on Aug. 1, The Big Clock on Aug. 15, American Graffiti on Aug. 29 and Apollo 13 on Sept. 12. Cost is $10 per adult and $5 for kids 16 and under. Price includes cartoons, a souvenir glass and several free tastings. Tickets sold at the door. Grounds open at 7 p.m. with screenings at full dark. Bring blankets or low-back chairs. Proceeds benefit the St. Helena and Calistoga Family Centers. No reservations necessary. 1111 Dunaweal Lane, Calistoga. Sterlingvineyards.com.
Every Tuesday night through Aug. 11 on the Town Green. Next up is Journey to the Center of the Earth on June 9, Kung Fu Panda on June 16 and Ice Age 2 on June 23. (The film series for grown-ups on Thursday nights has been canceled this year.) Off Windsor River Road turn right on Bell Road. For more information, call 838-1260 or check townofwindsor.com.
Film Night in the Park
Nonprofit pioneer in outdoor community movies holds screenings in Fairfax, Mill Valley, San Anselmo, San Geronimo and Dolores Park and Union Square in San Francisco. Catch Over the Hedge on June 12 at Central Field park, located at Broadway and Bank in Fairfax. On June 13, Kung Fu Panda plays at Old Mill Park in the 300 block of Throckmorton Avenue in Mill Valley. The series runs through Oct. 3. Audience participation with boos, hisses, cheers and singing along, is encouraged. Showtime is 8 p.m. A donation of $6 per adult and $3 per child is requested. Bring blankets, pillows and low chairs. Popcorn, candy and sodas available. (415) 453-4333. For a complete film and location line-up check out filmnight.org.
You can reach Staff Writer Meg McConahey at 521-5204 or email@example.com.
By MEG McCONAHEY
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT