A moody Presidio lights up in 2006 during a Film in the Fog screening.

Looking to the Skies for Cinema

Gianmaria Franchini August 5, 2010

Outdoor screenings may not offer perfect sight lines or ideal sound delivery. They may not even project what people of taste consider "good" films. But what they do have is aura. Night skies, boisterous crowds, open bottles: It adds up to a kind of camp romance. Here in the Bay Area, it's impossible to guarantee warm nights or constellation-friendly viewing in the summer, so the following round-up has cast a wide net toward some of our more predictable climes. Unless otherwise noted, films begin at dusk and seating is free. Bring your own blanket.

Starlight Cinemas Nine, San Jose (Through August 25) Classic and indie films are shown in tree-lined, stroll-friendly San Pedro Square, the Historic District and the burgeoning art neighborhood SoFA District.  Zombie-themed parade and pub crawl Zombie-O-Rama returns for a second year.  Remaining screenings include Creature from the Black Lagoon in 3-D and Zombieland.  This time of year nights in San Jose are very dry and warm.  Seating is provided, and there are plenty of restaurants and places to eat in all three city locations.  Films screen on Wednesdays.

Dolores Park Movie Nights, San Francisco (Full schedule TBA) Locally themed films screen August 12 and September 9.  Dolores Park is a magnet for picnics, so bring blankets, a chair, and requisite take-out to best enjoy that undulant lawn.  *Note: Organizers of Dolores Park Movie Nights like to keep the event as local as possible, hence the secretive schedule.

Sacramento Outdoor Film Festival (August 8–28) The inaugural season of the Sacramento Outdoor Film Festival features a few classics and a summer blockbusters for good measure.  Sacramento is a bit outside a purist’s boundaries of the Bay Area, but a hot mid-summer night is a given.  Films screen on Sundays and begin at 9 p.m. when the weather is a bit cooler. Rebel Without a Cause kicks off the festival on August 8.  Beer, wine, and food will be supplied by local Hoppy Brewing Co.

Bernal Heights Outdoor Cinema (September 2–5 and October 4) Bernal Heights mini-festival is a community-driven affair with local sponsors, music, and filmmakers.  Screening locations range from local photography studios, libraries, and fog-encircled Bernal Hill, crowned with the best view of the City and the Bay.  Even die-hards will want to bring a blanket – given the fog and the films, there won’t be any stars to see on the screen or up above.  The season finale occurs October 4 at El Rio; look for titles on all programs later this month.

Foreign Cinema, San Francisco (Year-round; current program through September 5) Though within a restaurant setting, Foreign Cinema offers movies under open Mission District skies (with the aid of warming heat lamps). Monsoon Wedding, the intricately woven chronicle of Indian family life through a traditional Punjabi wedding, plays on the restaurant’s patio through September 5. Foreign Cinema is well known for its cuisine, including oyster bar, and California/Mediterranean-inspired fare.

Film Night in the Park (Through September 25) Film Night in the Park is Marin County-based, with regular screenings in San Anselmo, Fairfax, Mill Valley, and San Geronimo.  Some nights are in San Francisco at Dolores Park, Washington Square, and Union Square.  Depending on locations in San Francisco and Marin, the weather can be quite different (see above), so it would be wise to plan ahead time.  One of Hitchcock’s finest films, Rear Window, plays at Union Square Aug. 28.  The Big Lebowski, that Los Angeles saga of the American dude, will bring the festival to a close.

Film in the Fog (October 2) The San Francisco Film Society and Presidio Trust offer the eighth annual free, family-friendly outdoor picnic and screening on the lawn of the Main Post Theatre, 99 Moraga Avenue at Montgomery Street in the Presidio. Though not yet announced, we got news that the screening is sci-fi classic The Incredible Shrinking Man, which follows forlorn Scott Carey as he shrinks slowly away after exposure to insecticides and radioactive mist. The film’s visual effects are impressive for their time, and Carey’s encounters with a household cat and spider become potentially deadly. The picnic begins at 5 p.m.; film begins at 7 p.m.

MobMov (TBA) MobMov organizes guerilla drive-in screenings for the adventurous.  There are chapters from 33 nations in the world, including the pioneering Bay Area chapter, but schedules are available only through email. Signing up is a small task for the thrill of a watching the side of an abandoned building come to life with film.  Because screenings are announced at the last-minute, they are liable to be capricious, like the weather.  Leave your sense of planning and trepidation at home, but bring a radio to tune in.

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