Summer means outdoor movies throughout the area

Let 'em go: Thousands watched "Frozen" at Franklin Square on June 30.
Let 'em go: Thousands watched "Frozen" at Franklin Square on June 30. (STEVEN M. FALK / Staff Photographer)
Posted: July 09, 2014

Movie magic takes on a whole new meaning when the flick in question is Disney's megahit animated musical Frozen. Add outdoor atmosphere, pre-show chow from a Stephen Starr franchise, and a carousel ride, and you have a combination that could win over both tattooed dads and daughters in hair ribbons and tutus, and every demographic in between.

It's summer, and in Philadelphia, as in many cities across the land, that means open-air movies, many of them free. On June 30, crowds flocked to Franklin Square, 200 N. Sixth St., for a 9 p.m. showing of Frozen on a giant screen. The spectacle was part of the "Philly @ the Movies" series, the film component of the weeklong Wawa Welcome America! festival. Other blockbusters, such as The Hunger Games: Catching Fire and perennial Philly favorite Rocky were also on the schedule.

 Asked if she'd watched Frozen before, Lindsay Allison, 12, of Media was quick to answer: "Yeah, 30, 50 times. I watch with my cousins and sister."

Some older attendees, still in the single digits as far as viewings of Frozen were concerned, were drawn to the alfresco ambience. "I'm excited to be outside and see it the first time," said Ben Littell, 27, of Fairmount. He planned to see another movie outdoors on July 3.

At several venues, movie screenings are paired with another hot trend: food trucks. At this Friday's movies, attendees can dig in at Mucho Bueno and Curbside Creamery at Moonlight Movies in Mount Airy, or catch Samosa Deb and Jimmies Cupcake at the Galleries at Moore's Film al Fresco.

Philly's various outdoor film organizers - the Awesome Fest, the Galleries at Moore's Film al Fresco, and Moonlight Movies to name a few - joined the party at different times, but the open-air cinema trend inevitably calls to mind the drive-ins of days past.

"We had outdoor movies several years ago at Franklin Square," said Amy Needle, president of Historic Philadelphia, the organization that runs the park. "It's the closest to a drive-in you can get around here."

Across the Delaware, there is Family Summer Movies in Medford, Tuesdays through Aug. 12 at dusk, and Collingswood continues its popular Movies in Knight Park series.

Although a smattering of drive-in cinemas survive throughout the country, they are few and far between in this area. The Delsea Drive-In Theatre in Vineland and Shankweiler's Drive-In Theatre in Orefield are both 45 minutes from Philadelphia.

But there's no dearth of options for those seeking an outdoor movie experience this summer sans automobile. Whether you're in the mood for indie offerings or family-friendly flicks, there's a broad range of offerings.

The outdoor screenings remind Joseph Syrnick, president and chief executive officer of the nonprofit Schuylkill Banks, of the 16-millimeter movies his boys' club showed in Manayunk when he was growing up. He said the screenings call to mind "things we used to do when life was a whole lot simpler than today."

Many organizers are driven by a desire to enliven unused or underused public spaces in Philadelphia to make the city and its neighborhoods more livable. With the mounting cost of movie tickets and the rise of all-frills multiplexes, it's little wonder free outdoor movies are so enticing to the public.

"The films are a gateway to bring people into parks," said Mark Focht, first deputy commissioner of Philadelphia Parks and Recreation and president of the American Society of Landscape Architects. The goal is to have guests return to the park after the screening. "Maybe they'll sit in that park and read a book," he said, "or a grandparent will bring a child to the playground."

The larger events, such as the Delaware River Waterfront Corporation's Screenings Under the Stars at Penn's Landing, attract people from all over the city.

"We can get anywhere between 2[,000] and 5,000 people," said Emma Fried-Cassorla, DRWC's communications manager. "You can see people going on the buses afterwards going to wherever they live."

Neighborhood-centric screenings such as Mount Airy at the Movies are more localized.

Elizabeth Moselle, director of commercial corridor revitalization and business development for Mt. Airy USA, said Moonlight Movies was started four years ago to spur the development of Lovett Library Park, an empty green space on a quiet stretch of Germantown Avenue adjacent to the neighborhood's public library branch. On Fridays (at the park) and Saturdays (at the Trolley Car Diner) through Aug. 16, Moonlight Movies screens films such as Despicable Me 2, Pitch Perfect, and Men in Black at 8:30 p.m.

"The launch of the movies was a way to activate the space, for people to recognize it as a place that had potential," Moselle said. "Now people know what you mean when you say Lovett Park."

Similarly, Schuylkill Banks began showing films in 2006 to generate traffic along the river, where the organization is building a trail.

But space activation isn't the only motivation behind the movies.

Kaytie Johnson, Rochelle F. Levy director and chief curator at Moore College of Art & Design, views screenings as a means of both enlivening the Parkway and supporting emerging filmmakers.

Film al Fresco was established in 2012 when the Galleries at Moore received a $20,000 Knight Arts Challenge grant. The event, which continues Friday and July 25 at 8 p.m., showcases narrative and documentary shorts and features by indie filmmakers in the greater Philadelphia region.

The series was Johnson's idea. "I'm very interested in film," she said. "I was new to the city and very interested in emphasizing DIY."

"There is something special about collective consciousness, about taking this experience in with others and not just alone in your house," Moselle said. "And having it be free is just wonderful."

Selected outdoor films

Times approximate. Get there early for best seats!

July 10, 8:30 p.m.

Finding Nemo

Location: The Banks by Walnut St. Bridge


The Hunger Games: Catching Fire

Location: Great Plaza at Penn’s Landing


July 17, 8:15 p.m.

Back to the Future

Location: Grays Ferry Crescent Esplanade


July 25, dusk (about 8 p.m.)

Short Films

Location: Aviator Park on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway


Aug. 1, 8:30 p.m.

Rear Window

Location: Lovett Library Park


Aug. 2, 8:30 p.m.

Pitch Perfect

Location: Trolley Car Diner, 7619 Germantown Ave.


Aug. 14, 8 p.m.

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

Location: Great Plaza at Penn’s Landing


Aug. 21, 8 p.m.


Location: Great Plaza at Penn’s Landing


Aug. 29, 8:30 p.m.

Voters Choice

Location: Hawthorne Park


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