Seeing stars: Outdoor movie nights spreading throughout region
People usually grab candy bars and popcorn when they go to the movies; Matt Funicello wants cinema fans in Glens Falls to bring blankets and lawn chairs.
As one of the film lovers behind the city’s nonprofit Art in the Public Eye outdoor cinema program, Funicello believes summer breezes and lightning bugs should be part of the moviegoing experience.
“I think Americans have a great love of cinema, and it’s getting very hard in the days of the multiplex to see older films or third-run films or more independent films,” said Funicello, whose group will begin its fourth season of outdoor films Friday — showing “The Nightmare Before Christmas.” “Most smaller movie houses are having trouble representing anything outside the Arnold Schwarzenegger spectrum. I think this is a hunger for movies of substance. . . . We really have tried to tailor each season toward different movies of substance.”
Other communities are also inviting people to spend summer nights outdoors at the movies, watching characters such as Indiana Jones, Alex the Lion and Willy Wonka on large, inflatable screens. Films have been scheduled in Schenectady, Ballston Spa, Albany and Bolton Landing.
The Ballston Spa Business and Professional Association will run “The Lorax” Friday in Wiswall Park. Another animated film will be chosen for Friday, Aug. 9.
In Schenectady, outdoor films begin Aug. 1, at Schenectady High School. First up is “Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted.” Films also will shown in Niskayuna, Rotterdam, Princetown, Duanesburg and Scotia.
“We try to pick what had been pretty popular movies and we think families would want to come to,” said Joseph F. McQueen, director of public communications for Schenectady County and one of the program organizers. “Rise of the Guardians” and “The Lorax” are other movies that will be shown.
McQueen believes the movies are successful because they’re just a different experience. Kids who go to the movies inside a theater are usually stuck with seats they have chosen. Outside, kids might see friends and visit different blankets during the evening.
McQueen also said there are activities for kids and their parents before films begin at dusk. Schenectady County sheriff’s deputies will run their Operation Safe Child program during movie nights.
People are asked to bring picnic baskets and lawn chairs. “Definitely bug spray,” McQueen said. “We put that in our advertising, make sure you have bug spray, because it is outdoors.”
Ballston Spa business owners hope people visit the village for dinner and some shopping before family movies begin at 8:30 p.m. Generally, about 60 people attend.
“We have a very walkable downtown and we try to take advantage of that,” said Ellen Mottola, administrative assistant for the business and professional association.
She added popcorn and cotton candy are available at the movies. A vendor sells hot dogs.
“It makes you feel like you’re at the movies even when you’re outside,” Mottola said.
Bolton Landing’s July and August movies will include “Hotel Translvania,” “Brave,” “Akeelah and the Bee” and “Oz: The Great and Powerful.” All films will be shown in Rogers Memorial Park.
The nine-film Glens Falls series will include “The Nightmare Before Christmas” on July 12, “E.T.” on July 19, “Bugsy Malone” on Aug. 2 and “Raiders of the Lost Ark” on Aug. 9. They’re all on Friday nights, and all will begin at dusk.
“We’ve done foreign films, we have done documentaries and we have done musicals,” said Funicello, who owns Rock City Bakehouse, a series sponsor along with Adirondack Broadcasting, Black Dog Designs and The Chronicle newspaper. “This is the fourth full season, and it is mostly children and family films with a real focus on animation because we wanted to be a little bit more crowd-pleasing this year.”
In Albany, the state-run Open Air Cinema at the Empire State Plaza will show two films — the 1971 version of “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory” on Aug. 21 and “Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted” on Aug. 28.
“It’s free, which is great for families,” said Heather Groll, a spokeswoman for the state’s Office of General Services. “We have tons of built-in seating right on the museum steps. People can also bring their chairs if they like.”
Groll said the August shows will represent Open Air’s second season. This year, films will be begin at 8 p.m. — later than in 2012. Groll said program organizers are hoping for more darkness.
She added that choosing the movies leads to spirited discussion — everyone has a favorite.
“In the end, we look for ones that will really resonate with a large group of people and provide the most entertainment,” she said.
Groll said adults and children are encouraged to bring snacks and wear pajamas. Carry-in alcoholic beverages will not be allowed under the plaza’s new policy for public events.
In addition to parents spending time with kids, Groll also believes there’s a nostalgic appeal to summer movies outdoors.
“Kids in pajamas were at drive-ins, and you remember what a good time that was,” she said. “It’s just on a different scale, and you don’t have to have a car to do it, and not everybody does. You can ride your bike, you can walk, you can live in the neighborhood.”
Funicello said crowds will vary. Good weather helps.
“We’ve had as few as 20 people show up at times, but we’ve had as many as 150 to 200 people show up, as well,” he said.
As is the case in Albany, choosing the outdoor films can lead to discussion. Eight cinema committee members prepared lists of favorite films, and then the debate started.
“We wanted to pick personal favorites that were family-friendly — ‘Time Bandits’ [Aug. 23] and ‘Bugsy Malone’ [Aug. 2] were mine. These are more commercial; last year, we did a lot of documentaries.”
While the films are free to audiences, groups that show outdoor movies must pay fees to film distributors in order to legally run festivals. Funicello considers the money well spent, because he wants to increase the number of people who appreciate quality and independent films in the community.
“I look at this as being the eventual seed that will create a truly independent cinema in Glens Falls,” he said.