Boulder Outdoor Cinema
When: Saturdays through Aug. 30. Gates open at 7 p.m. Music begins at 7:30, followed by pre-show trivia contests. Feature presentation starts at dusk, typically 8:45-9:15 p.m.
Where: 1750 13th St. Boulder, in the lot behind the Boulder Museum of Contemporary Art
• July 12: “Frozen”
• July 19: “The Royal Tenenbaums”
• July 26: “Aliens”
• Aug. 2: “Office Space”
• Aug. 9: “Zombieland”
• Aug. 16: “The Princess Bride”
• Aug. 23: “American Hustle”
• Aug. 30: “Monty Python and the Holy Grail”
Info: boulderoutdoorcinema.com or 855-262-9324
It’s easy to compare the annual Boulder Outdoor Cinema series to the bygone days of the drive-in movie theater.
The similarities seem ready-made. The outdoor film series, which began in 1996, has bucked the trend of the megaplex. Every summer, newcomers and loyalists alike gather in the parking lot behind the Boulder Museum of Contemporary Art to camp out on folding chairs and watch cult favorites beamed on a screen set up on a brick wall.
The series, which on Saturday kicks off an eight-week run with a screening of the Disney film “Frozen,” is a clear throwback to the golden age of the drive-in. The atmosphere of a typical screening recalls a time when indoor comforts of a theater took a back seat to the back seat of an automobile. Even so, the comparison is overly simplistic for Liz Marsh, one of the series’ two co-owners.
“We love the tie-ins to the drive-in theaters, but I actually think that this is more of a community experience,” Marsh said. “You sat in your car. You stayed with the people you came with. I’ve noticed that at the Boulder Outdoor Cinema, people really interact with each other.”
Attendees will return year after year to mingle with the same friends, Marsh said. Staff members have seen audience members finalize business deals before a screening; they’ve seen loyal moviegoers who first reported to the event nearly two decades ago as children showing up with their own children. What’s more, they’ll find features that were never an option at the old drive-ins — stand-up comedians, live bands and DJs take the stage to entertain the crowd before the film starts.
“We have an incredibly loyal audience,” Marsh said.
That brand of crowd fidelity has helped keep the series afloat, despite challenges that have ranged from financial to geographical. Since the event’s inception, series organizers have had to deal with the logistics of a growing city — the parking lot at Canyon Boulevard and Arapahoe Avenue is plumb in the middle of some of the city’s busiest real estate, and its availability has been far from ensured year-to-year.
What’s more, securing the rights to screen films can be expensive. The series has always been a labor of love for organizers, and the $5 admission fee hasn’t always covered what can quickly become a hefty price tag.
None of those hurdles has dissuaded Marsh and fellow owner Jeanine Fritz, an employee of the Daily Camera’s publisher, Prairie Mountain Publishing. Three years ago, Fritz took over the business from former owner and producer Dave Riepe; two years ago, Marsh decided to pair with Fritz as co-owner.
Since then, Marsh and Fritz have found solutions to the challenges that have come with operating an outdoor film series. While the locale of the screenings is secure for now, the BOC organizers now have an inflatable screen at their disposal. In the future, that could translate into screenings at parks and other outdoor venues.
They’ve also been able to keep scraping together the money to cover the film rights, which can average about $350 per flick.
It’s a success story Marsh attributes entirely to the series’ dedicated audience members, movie buffs who’ll return year after year for cult classics such as “The Princess Bride” and “Monty Python and the Holy Grail” — they’re the ones who keep the crew of about 10 regular staff members in business.
“Nobody’s going to get rich off of this, nobody’s going to make a lot of money off of this,” Marsh said. “It’s our audience members who are keeping this thing alive.”
They’re also integral in choosing the lineup, she added. This year, BOC series organizers started with a list of more than 200 possible titles to feature during the series. Thanks to constant community canvasing, they narrowed that roster to eight, a selection that mixes the old cult favorites with newer titles such as “American Hustle” and “Frozen.”
For Marsh, a former University of Colorado-Boulder film school student who never lost her passion for the art form, that kind of input and enthusiasm makes the BOC worthwhile. This is an event that caters to those with a real passion for movies and community, she said, which gives it a greater depth and durability than any drive-in.