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The Summer Tradition of Outdoor Movies in Los Angeles

The Summer Tradition of Outdoor Movies in Los Angeles

By Robert Spuhler

Whenever possible, Angelenos are outside — to work out on the beach, to read in a park, or to drink on a patio. They’re even outside to shop, as Santa Monica’s Third Street Promenade confirms, just a short walk away from the Fairmont Miramar.

It makes sense, then, that L.A. residents would take one of the city’s greatest exports, films, and bring them out from the theater and under the cloudless summer night sky.

According to Los Angeles Magazine, the month of May alone — before the summer season really kicked off — featured 100 outdoor movie screenings in Los Angeles, Santa Monica, and other nearby venues in Los Angeles County. There were older standbys (Casablanca), newer classics (Ferris Bueller’s Day Off), cult films (Bound) and recent blockbusters (A Star is Born). Like picnics or trips to the Hollywood Bowl, films al fresco have become hallmarks of the summer.

The modern era of outdoor film screenings, one can argue, started in 2002 when John Wyatt borrowed a projector and showed the Alfred Hitchcock favorite Strangers on a Train on the mausoleum wall at Hollywood Forever Cemetery. It was the first of 17 years (and counting) worth of screenings on that wall. Called Cinespia, after the founder’s personal movie club at the time, the exhibitions now draw thousands to the cemetery, picnic baskets and blankets in tow. DJs spin before the screening starts, and increasingly ornate photo booths, featuring scenes from the movies, attract long lines.

“My friends have been coordinating one [film] in June as our kickoff to the summer,” says Jacqueline Smith, whose first Cinespia experience was a screening of cult classic Showgirls with its star, Elizabeth Berkley, in attendance. “It’s not summer if you didn’t see a movie at Hollywood Forever.”

Wyatt told the Hollywood Reporter in 2016 that Cinespia was essentially the only game in town in terms of major outdoor screenings for a decade. Since then, though, several organizations have started putting on their own exhibitions: Street Food Cinema (which started in 2012) and Eat See Hear both cropped up, adding food trucks (at the height of their popularity) and bands to the lineup. Both are travelling shows; Street Food Cinema will host screenings this summer at Will Rogers State Historic Park, less than five miles from the Fairmont Miramar, while Eat See Hear will take over the Santa Monica High School Amphitheater for a pair of shows in 2019.

“Last year, I went to [an] outdoor screening where Heat was being screened,” said Anthony Duran, a regular attendee. “I hadn’t seen it on a big screen since it came out in ‘95. And what better L.A. movie is there to screen than Heat? Especially when you’re downtown, where a lot of it was shot?”

Some organizations, though, are more in the Cinespia model, with one consistent space. The Melrose Rooftop Theatre sets up shop in West Hollywood, while Rooftop Movies at the Montalban takes place at the top of the titular theater. And there are more — hotels, work spaces, and malls have all jumped on the bandwagon.

“I think that’s one of the great things we have here,” Duran said. “Pretty much any given day during the season, you can probably find an outdoor screening, and it’s a quintessential L.A. summer activity.”

Fairmont Miramar Hotel & Bungalows guests are invited to viewings on Sundays for their Sunset Poolside Cinema series. Go for a dip or lounge poolside as you snack on popcorn, sip a cocktail, or order dinner al fresco while you enjoy a fan-favorite film. It’s the perfect way to cap off a weekend in Santa Monica… only at The Miramar.

Schedule: A League of Their Own (7/7); Monsters Inc. (7/14); Indiana Jones: Raiders of The Lost Ark (7/21); Jurassic World (7/28); Hook (8/4); Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (8/11); The Incredibles (8/18); Back to the Future (8/25); Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle (9/1)

Featured Photo: Chad Miller via Flickr / CC BY

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