Tucked behind a tenement apartment in the Tenderloin, a hidden outdoor movie theater is bringing free cinema to San Francisco children whose parents can't afford today's ticket prices. "Tenderlointreon" is an open air cinema projected onto the side of a coin laundry from the courtyard behind the nonprofit Indochinese Housing Community Afterschool Program.
On a recent Friday night, children huddled in blankets on plastic lawn chairs with free hot dogs and popcorn, absorbed in the animated movie "Bolt," about a super-dog with the voice of John Travolta.
"Parents in this neighborhood are not going to drop $50 to take the family to the movies," said Tom Heath, director of the after-school program.
Many families in the neighborhood fled conflicts in Vietnam and Cambodia decades ago, and then settled in tiny subsidized apartments in the Tenderloin, where children now live in crowded conditions with extended families.
Tenderlointreon offers them a safe place to stretch their legs, play with other kids and take in an outdoor film and a free meal.
The outdoor movie theater was created by and for children in the after-school program, but other young people from the neighborhood can attend if they bring an adult with them.
"This is a great opportunity for kids who don't know a lot about their environment because it's unsafe to go outside," said Munee Cheng, 19, who volunteers at the program.
Heath used $3,000 from a $10,000 grant from the Louis R. Lurie Foundation of San Francisco to pay for the projector, speakers and mixer. Children researched and bought the equipment, choose the movies, run the projector and make the popcorn.
Tenderlointreon outdoor cinema premiered in July with the movie "Aladdin." The courtyard, surrounded on three sides by multistory apartments, drew curious residents until the audience swelled to nearly 100 people, Heath said.
The movies have been a popular draw ever since, Heath said, with films such as "The Wizard of Oz," "Transformers," "Iron Man" and "Polar Express."
For Halloween, kids made their own scary shorts - "Don't Go in the Green Building," about a haunted apartment building in the Tenderloin, and "Stow Lake Witch," an ode to "The Blair Witch Project" about a haunted lake in Golden Gate Park.
"We had a full house that night because everyone came to see their friends in the homemade movies, so that gave us an idea to start our own Tenderloin independent film festival," Heath said.
Norman Nhey, 16, ran the projector for the Friday night showing of "Bolt." "I like coming here and setting this up for the kids, it makes me feel like I did a good thing," he said.
Mollica Ke, 11, said it's fun to watch movies outside. "You aren't watching a movie with strangers - you are here with your best friends," she said.
Source: "'Tenderlointreon' a hit with young film fans" by Meredith May -San Fransisco Chronicle. Read full article at: http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2009/05/01/BA7M179V5M.DTL