Outdoor movies flourish as summer winds down

SUNDOWN CINEMA: A range of ages gather at Fletcher Community Park for a Family Movie Night. Fletcher Parks and Recreation is one of several local organizations that host outdoor film screenings in the summer.
SUNDOWN CINEMA: A range of ages gather at Fletcher Community Park for a Family Movie Night. Fletcher Parks and Recreation is one of several local organizations that host outdoor film screenings in the summer. Photo by Nicole Sweat

Tim Schaller does it out of a love for film and to re-create the charms of the drive-in age. Stirling Gardner aims to bring one of his favorite parts of Los Angeles to his new neighbors, while Sandra Travis and her colleagues strive to provide a free, family-friendly experience to local residents.

Regardless of their motivations, the minds behind three of the Asheville area’s numerous outdoor movie offerings (see sidebar) agree that the sense of community is at the heart of their interest in hosting cinematic events in the open air.

“There’s something really romantic about seeing movies outside,” says Schaller, the owner of Wedge Brewing Co. He’s been showing films in the brewery’s courtyard since June 2008, including annual screenings of Thunder Road.

Jason Scott Furr of the photographic education nonprofit The Asheville Darkroom brings his own projection equipment and beams the film onto the side of a delivery truck. Schaller bought the vehicle thinking the brewery would do a lot of wholesale, and though he says it is movable, its wheels haven’t budged in a while. To enhance the makeshift screen, local artist Ian Wilkinson painted curtains on one side, while Ted Harper adorned the side facing the train tracks, which Schaller says has prevented it from being tagged with graffiti.

Though Wedge has shown the work of local filmmakers David Kabler, Mitch Rumfelt and Hank Bones, Schaller typically lets other factors drive his selections. “It’s tricky. I’ve tried to do series, and what I’ve come to understand is that it is an outdoor movie, people will be talking, so people want to come out and see what they know — which makes a lot of sense to me,” he says.

Gardner and Shawn Verbrugghe also listened to popular opinion when founding Asheville Outdoor Cinema. The duo posted a poll on the organization’s Facebook page, asking locals what movie they’d most want to see out of nearly 20 potential titles. They then curated their inaugural series with the top-five vote-getters: The Princess Bride, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, National Lampoon’s Vacation, Super Troopers and The Shining.

“We posted our survey the week before [The Orange Peel] showed [The Princess Bride], and I love Princess Bride, but I was shocked that it was the No. 1 choice,” Gardner says. “It was head and shoulders above the other ones.”

Their events at Carrier Park will feature digital high-definition projection onto a giant inflatable screen that provides a crisp, wrinkle-free image with audio courtesy of a state-of-the-art sound system. Gardner is committed to being considerate of residents who live above Amboy Road and will drive around during The Princess Bride screening to check if the volume is too loud.

Gardner sees the series as another “immersive, interactive experience” in the tradition of Verbrugghe’s Pubcycle and the Conundrum Escape Rooms. Though children 12 and younger get in for free, those outside that age range will be charged admission ($11 plus fees; $8 plus fees for groups of 20 or more) but get more than simply the movie. Along with a pre-film trivia game and live music from a band whose style matches the spirit of that night’s film, Asheville Outdoor Cinema attendees can play cornhole, disc golf and oversized lawn games like giant Jenga. There will be ice cream from The Hop, traditional movie snacks and local food trucks.

The city of Asheville Parks and Recreation Department’s Movies in the Park events start in a similar vein, with a children’s craft activity organized by LEAF or Macaroni Kid that ties in with the theme of the evening’s film.

“We are always looking for ways to get the community out — hopefully, get away from the video game,” says Travis, program manager for Asheville Parks and Rec. “Even if you are coming out to watch a movie, at least you’re out and in a park and getting fresh air and maybe being exposed to something that you wouldn’t have been otherwise.”

An inflatable screen and sound system are set up at Pack Square Park for each event. Situated in the middle of an open public place, with lots of walk-up traffic and cars driving by, Travis has to be careful about what is shown. She and her co-workers stick to films rated G, PG or PG-13 that appeal to the whole family. Feedback has been overwhelmingly positive, especially for E.T. Parents who’d seen the film as kids enjoyed revisiting the Steven Spielberg classic with their children, says Travis.

Parks and Rec attempted to replicate that multigenerational connection with Back to the Future, but it wound up being the lone instance in the series’ initial 2014-16 run to be canceled for a hazard specific to outdoor events: rain. Determined to try again, the group booked Robert Zemeckis’ fan favorite in 2017 — only to once more have it nixed due to a downpour. While Travis says one staffer doesn’t want to tempt fate a third time, she’s hoping the weather will cooperate and the series can avoid resembling another popular film: “What I kept saying was, ‘It’s not Groundhog Day, it’s Back to the Future.’”

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About Edwin Arnaudin
Edwin Arnaudin is a staff writer for Mountain Xpress. He also reviews films for ashevillemovies.com and is a member of the Southeastern Film Critics Association (SEFCA) and North Carolina Film Critics Association (NCFCA). Follow me @EdwinArnaudin

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