San Diego, California: Cinema Under the Stars Fights to Continue Screening Outdoor Movies

Outdoor Movies at Cinema Under the Stars in San DiegoMemorable characters. Enough plot twists to fill a Hitchcock flick. The risk of an untimely death. And, hopefully, a happy ending. This isn't the recipe for the latest Hollywood blockbuster, but the story of how Cinema Under The Stars, the independent outdoor movie theater run out of a hair salon's backyard on summer weekends, is teaming up with the city and community to keep from shutting down. After weeks and months of bureaucratic setbacks, the community is rising up to save the outdoor cinema. The open air cinema long a neighborhood fixture in Mission Hills as much for the art-house and indie movies it screens as for the reclining seats, heated patio and quaint location is expected to open its doors for the 2009 outdoor movie season June 18, more than a month after its usual schedule, said its founder and director, Doug Yeagley, who owns the adjacent salon, Tops. It's going to be a late season, but we're going to have one, Yeagley said. The city has been great with us. They're going to work with us to resolve all these issues. Last fall, the city's neighborhood code compliance department informed Yeagley that the theater is in an area not zoned for outdoor cinemas. It also lacks a wheelchair-accessible bathroom, and some structural and electrical features need to be updated, the city said. Outdoor Movies in San Diego, CaliforniaOne solution was a potentially pricey conditional-use permit, which could cost more than the cinema earns in an entire season, Yeagley said. Making the space code-compliant could cost thousands. He was also worried the city could require parking and traffic studies, which could add thousands more to the price tag. The problem: It's a tiny cinema with a devoted fan base but a modest revenue stream. We don't make a lot of money with this, Yeagley said. It's a little outdoor theater where 60 people enjoy Cary Grant movies. If there was a lot of money in it, then everybody would open a theater. Until now, profit has gone toward blankets and occasional technological or structural upgrades, but such a massive overhaul as noted by the city would put him under, Yeagley said. The situation reminds him a little of what happened a few years ago, when the cinema was forced to move to University Towne Center because he lost part of his lease. After many headaches, Yeagley returned to the original location in 2005. How to keep his cinema alive this time around? Yeagley mulled it over with Uptown Planners, an advisory group. He got ideas from supporters. He worked with Councilman Kevin Faulconer, who rallied behind him. Yeagley solicited donations ($320 so far. Hey, this isn't Hollywood.). Finally, he met with representatives of Mayor Jerry Sanders' office and the planning department April 30 and successfully made his case. Rachel Laing, a spokeswoman for the mayor, said the city concluded that as long as Yeagley improves the electrical and safety issues immediately, the cinema can reopen next month. Then, after resolving the highest priority issues, Yeagley will bring the space up to code during the next few months. I wouldn't say that we gave them (the cinema) special consideration, Laing added. We didn't have to bend the rules for them, but we needed to have a more clear understanding of what rules applied. With planning for the season finally under way, Yeagley said he's envisioning a whole new threshold. Cultural activities. Hair shows. A symposium for philosophical discussions. And a splashy fundraiser to help pay for the mandated changes. For Holly Miller, 22, who saw Psycho last summer and also likes anything with Audrey Hepburn, the renewed season comes not a moment too soon. It's kind of original, Miller said, and one of the only places that plays good movies. The moral of this story is that the tiny outdoor cinema is, we promise, still in business, for the time being. The San Diego community and the theater's small but devoted fan base is determined to keep the outdoor movies alive. Source: "The show will go on" by Roxana Popescu -The Union-Tribune. Read full article at: http://www3.signonsandiego.com/stories/2009/may/09/1cz9cinema223646-show-will-go/.

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