Drive-in movies may be on a decline, but parks and other public spaces are increasingly picking up the slack. Outdoor movies are shown on screens set up on grassy fields, in parks, town squares and in other public places that allow for kicking back on lawn chairs or beach towels with a picnic - no peering over the steering wheel required.
"In the past six years the outdoor movie thing has really exploded," says Tom Boss, who founded the Bay Area's first outdoor movie series, Film Night in the Park, 17 years ago. Cities such as Chicago, as well as many in Europe, regularly draw thousands of families to outdoor movie festivals throughout the summer.
"People are looking for new ways to experience movies and get a sense of community that big theaters and drive-ins used to offer - not like what you get at a multiplex at the mall. Where it first started was in communities that didn't have the demographics to build a theater - they'd do it outdoors."
The 29-movie Film Night in the Park festival runs from May to October at North Bay and San Francisco venues, including Old Mill Park in Mill Valley, and Dolores Park and Union Square in San Francisco.
Taking advantage of its warmer climate, Redwood City has jumped on the outdoor-movie bandwagon for a second year with its free Movies on the Square series on Thursdays. Tonight's offering is the Disney classic "Mary Poppins."
The films are projected digitally onto an inflatable screen about half the size of a regular movie theater screen, set up on the city's historic courthouse steps. "You don't really notice that it's smaller. It dominates your view," says Lucas Wilder, Redwood City's events coordinator.
The city provides 120 wrought-iron chairs for viewers, but most of the 1,000 or so people who regularly show up tote their own seats or something to lie on. Reserving space for a reasonable number of guests is OK, and there is room for latecomers across the street.
Popcorn's available, and smoothies can be had at an on-site cafe. Of course, cell phone use is discouraged, but unlike in theaters, it doesn't seem to be a problem.
-- "Touch of Evil": Friday. "Harry Potter": Saturday. Screenings start at dusk (about 8:45 p.m.). $6 donation adults, $3 children and seniors. Creek Park, 400 block of Sir Francis Drake Blvd., San Anselmo. (415) 453-4333. www.filmnight.org.
-- "Mary Poppins": Dusk tonight. Free. Redwood City Courthouse Square, 2200 Broadway St., Redwood City. (650) 780-7250. links.sfgate.com/ZELV.
- Paul Kilduff, 96Hours@sfchronicle.com