Outdoor cinema a breath of fresh air

January 10, 2010 by  

Barb Floden has helped to create a monster, one that emerges at night in summer and is adored in communities throughout Metro Vancouver.

For the last five years, the Vancouver Board of Parks and Recreation communications director has organized the Monsters in the Meadow film events, a series of free public movies screened outdoors at Ceperly Meadow, located close to Second Beach in Stanley Park.

The annual event brings hundreds of people out to watch classic B-rated monster movies in the ominous surroundings after dark.

This year, Monsters in the Meadow screened The Blob, the morbid tale of an alien life form that eats everything that gets in its way.

Floden said that despite some rain, more than 500 people showed up with blankets, popcorn and costumes to take in a bit of old-fashioned, drivein-inspired fun.

She said that event provides a great opportunity for people to come out for some affordable fun that isn’t the usual programming offered by the park board.

“Recreation is not just sports or fitness oriented,” she explained. “It’s anything to do with engaging people at the community level and bringing them together in a positive way, and arts and culture is also part of our mandate. And this is not the traditional public art and crafts and painting.”

Since Monsters in the Meadow began in 2004, localities throughout the Lower Mainland have promoted similar free movie screenings.

With the help of Fresh Air Cinemas, an events promotion and logistics company, White Rock, Langley, Burnaby and Coquitlam all hosted public movie screenings this past summer. The cities provide the right park
or accessible space and Fresh Air comes in and sets up sound, projection and a huge inflatable screen for viewing.

Floden acknowledged that sponsorship and support for free movie events like these come from many sources, and the public support is obviously there.

She said that the West End Community Association’s showing of Momma Mia at Harbor Green Park brought out more than 1,000 people.

In Surrey, free movie events have taken on a life of their own over the past five years.

Bonnie Burnside, manager of special events and communication for the Surrey Downtown Business Improvement Association, said that she has watched their annual summer movie events grow from a small get together near the Gateway SkyTrain station to a series of full-fledged community parties at Holland Park. Burnside said that this past summer, more than 2,000 people came out each night to see family films such as The Lion King and Hannah Montana: The Movie.

Burnside said she thinks that the events fill a void in summer-events programs in Surrey and provide members of the diverse community with an opportunity to come out and meet their neighbours.

“In our area, there weren’t a lot of events going on in the summertime and there particularly wasn’t a lot of events going on in the evening,” said Burnside. “What we wanted to do was show everybody that this was a great place to come and be a part of an event.”

Public response to the films has been overwhelmingly positive, but Burnside said that it is a costly venture that comes with some strings attached.

This summer, Burnside was able to finance the Holland Park movie events, pre-show entertainment included, for about $23,000. However, she knows the cost for next year will be higher and that it will be difficult to come up with the extra funding from her budget.

In Vancouver, Floden’s concerns have less to do with funding and more to do with organization and legalities. Responsibility for advertising for the movies was shared between business associations, community associations and Fresh Air Cinema, which made it difficult to find out where and when the events were happening.

To make matters worse, she said that many community associations bought the wrong public-screening licenses, which prevented them from advertising the names of the films screened. She said that things will be organized differently next year.

“We’ll do a group marketing effort that can show people ‘here is all of the events happening in our parks this summer,’ because people don’t really care who sponsors them, they just want to go see a free movie,” said Floden with a laugh.

“They can come out and just hang out at the park with their friends and neighbours and don’t have to open their wallets at all.”


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