Entertainment & Arts

Movies al fresco

Summer in Southern California has long been the stuff of song — hot days, warm nights, sunshine, bare skin and cruising. For a growing number of Angelenos, it has also come to mean seeing movies outside.

Anchored by the Cinespia screenings at Hollywood Forever Cemetery, watching movies al fresco can now be done at plenty of places other than an old-fashioned drive-in. (Though there are still a few of those as well.)

This is the 10th season of Cinespia at Hollywood Forever, the final resting place of such Tinseltown notables as Douglas Fairbanks, Rudolph Valentino and Marion Davies. From a few hundred people at its early screenings, Cinespia now regularly attracts a crowd of 3,000.

Cinespia began as an offshoot of a film club that organized outings to revival screenings around Los Angeles. (Cinespia is Italian for film watcher.) Founder John Wyatt has never paid for an advertisement; attendance has grown via word of mouth and social media. Adding to the party atmosphere, Wyatt now arranges for DJs before and after the show, bringing in such names as David Holmes, Andy Votel and Carlos Niño.


“I’m very grateful and very happy that it’s grown. But I did know right away it was something special,” said Wyatt. “I really felt strongly that this is the way movies were meant to be seen, on a big screen with a big crowd. If you’re at home watching a film on your computer by yourself, it’s not the same.”

The popularity of Cinespia has spawned other outdoor screening series. Morgan Higby Night admits he started his Devil’s Night Drive In downtown when he got tired of waiting in line at Hollywood Forever.

“The cemetery screenings have really popularized it,” said Karie Bible, founder of the local listings site Film Radar. “It kind of lit the fire and spawned a lot of other people to do this as well.”

Wyatt’s first screening at Hollywood Forever was Alfred Hitchcock’s 1951 “Strangers on a Train,” and he knew then he had tapped into something.


“At the end of the film, when it reached its climax, people started screaming,” he said. “It’s like a ballgame, people are screaming and cheering and it really transforms the experience.”

Even those who might be put off by the unusual venue are usually won over.

“I think when anybody hears about it, everyone is like ‘that’s kind of creepy,’” said Jade Luber, creator of the local movie site Movies in LA. “But then you go there and it’s pretty much away from all the graves, so it’s not like that. It’s a really beautiful, really cool environment.”

The latest additions to the scene look to put a twist on just seeing a movie outdoors. The Outdoor Cinema Food Fest, in its second year, brings 10 to 12 food trucks a night to its rotating lineup of venues, including Exposition Park and La Cienega Park. A band plays before the film begin, and shorts from the website Funny or Die run before the feature.

“I think the big thing is the comfort level of being able to just kind of sprawl out with your blankets and pillows and your friends, and it feels a lot more communal,” said Heather Hope, a cofounder of the Outdoor Cinema Food Fest. “It’s OK to talk to the people next to you, whereas in a movie theater that certainly doesn’t happen unless you’re telling them to be quiet.”

The Devil’s Night Drive In, in its fourth year, takes place atop a parking garage. Carhop servers add a retro element, and there’s an Astroturf lawn for those who come by foot or bike.

“Drive-ins are usually outside the main heart of the city,” noted Night, “and I just thought it would be a really neat thing to be right in the city center with all these buildings around you in the middle of downtown Los Angeles.”

What to show is a predicament for outdoor screening programmers; films such as the modern cult hit “The Big Lebowski” or the evergreen “The Princess Bride” are guaranteed crowd-pleasers. Wyatt prides himself on some unusual choices, such as Alejandro Jodorowsky’s “The Holy Mountain,” and this season hopes to keep things fresh at Cinespia with “Young Frankenstein,” “The Treasure of the Sierra Madre,” “Heathers” and “Harold and Maude.”


The Echo Park Film Center’s Filmmobile uses a converted school bus to show films at locations often at or near where they were made. This year’s series includes “What Price Hollywood?,” “Riot on Sunset Strip” and “Pizza Pizza Daddy-O.” Locations are announced via Twitter (@epfcfilmmobile), 24 hours prior to each screening.

No matter the venue or the film, outdoor screenings can be a refreshing alternative to the multiplex.

“It’s a happening, as opposed to a mere just going to see a movie,” said Bible. “It’s a social event, it’s a community event and it’s a party. And there just happens to be a movie there.”

Get our daily Entertainment newsletter