Victoria, British Columbia: Outdoor Movies Makes a Comeback

Dining alfresco has long been one of the pleasures of summer in the city, but moonlit patios and terraces aren't the only places to enjoy culture or cuisine in the great outdoors this season.

With the demise of the drive-in, moviegoing alfresco has become the rage this summer.

Outdoor options began with the wildly successful Mayfair Drive-In which transformed the Mayfair Shopping Centre's parking lot into a drive-in for three consecutive Wednesdays in July. If you missed that flashback, no worries. There are more opportunities to watch outdoor movies elsewhere for little or no cost.

Next Friday marks the start of the eighth annual Free-B Film Festival, with a series of family-friendly popcorn classics to be screened for free throughout August at Beacon Hill Park's Cameron Bandshell. They include Labyrinth, Teenagers From Outer Space, The Princess Bride, Forbidden Planet, The Goonies and the Frankie Avalon and Annette Funicello classic Bikini Beach.

A series of themed outdoor movie nights part of arts entrepreneur Alec Wheeler's Showcase in the Square series at Market Square continues Aug. 10 with Casablanca and Aug. 24 with a screening of Grease.

It premiered June 29 with Hook, to coincide with the Tall Ships Festival, followed by an '80s night July 13 that featured Ferris Bueller's Day Off. (Trivia: Former prime minister Brian Mulroney once told me that was his and Mila's favourite movie.)

We're almost seeing a renaissance of outside theatres, said Ken Kelly, manager of the Downtown Victoria Business Association. People enjoy the common experience, if you will, and the excitement and fun of sharing a movie is never replaced, whether it's in a theatre or the open air.

Still to come is Cinema Under the Stars, Saanich Peninsula Chamber of Commerce's outdoor movie fundraiser (for the Saanich Peninsula Hospital Foundation) on Aug. 22 at Centennial Park in Central Saanich. Admission is by donation to the revival of a 1981 Hollywood blockbuster about the escapades of a certain fedora-wearing adventurer.

It brings the community together, executive director Eileen Leddy said.

The retro charity event, sponsored by Peninsula Co-Op, will be preceded by an old-fashioned country fair.

A classic success story was the Mayfair Drive-In.

More than 450 cars cruised in for the first Wednesday's showing of Grease, with other patrons parking nearby and bringing lawn chairs. Although the film didn't unspool until 10 p.m., the crowd started showing up at 4:30 p.m.

We shut down four city blocks. It was a zoo. We weren't ready for that, marketing executive Karina Perkins recalled. The chaos of that first week was unfortunate, but we sorted things out.

She said the first three Wednesdays in August have been booked for next year's event because it will be darker earlier.

The Victoria Film Festival's Free-B showcase is one of the most popular outdoor events.

It's fun and it brings people out, programmer Donovan Aikman said.

These days, many movies are shown on large inflatable screens rented by companies that specialize in outdoor movies. (In the U.S., Open Air Cinema manufactures screen packages for sale to consumers such as the CineBox Home, a backyard theatre kit that includes a 10 or 12 foot movie screen, DVD player, sound mixer and digital projector.)

Aikman attributed the Free-B Festival's success to its fun factor, free admission and creative programming.

We focus on finding the unusual, he said, noting the fantasy Labyrinth, starring David Bowie and a young Jennifer Connelly and featuring creatures from Jim Henson's Muppet Workshop, hasn't been available for public screenings until now.

Both The Goonies and The Princess Bride were booked, he says, because they have such a cult following.

A lot of the B movies we show aren't chosen because they're so bad they're laughable, he said. We go for something where there's a level of art. Forbidden Planet has similarities to Shakespeare's The Tempest. Teenagers From Outer Space is like a cheesy sci-fi Rebel Without a Cause. The Goonies has great art direction.

For her Market Square films, Wheeler is inviting moviegoers to dress up in movie-themed costumes. Admission is by donation, with proceeds going to Artists Scene in Action, a non-profit arts society.

Michael D. Reid
Victoria Times Colonist

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