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City park cinema Walk-In Movies draw crowds to a nostalgic-but-new experience

Photo by RaeLynn Ricarte

Crowds gather in the settling dusk on July 23 for “E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial.” Children are encouraged to stay near their parents before and during the show, but trips to the concession stand, where Logan Davis serves up popcorn, at right, are encouraged.

July 27, 2005

Grant funds a new Saturday night tradition

The universal experience of going to the movies shines on at Jackson Park in Hood River each Saturday night.

The Walk-In Movies series is packing them in, all ages, for some familiar and unusual movies in a novel setting.

At dusk every Saturday through Aug. 27, Hood River Community Education and Hood River Parks and Recreation sponsor the free showings at dusk. All that is needed is a lawn chair or blanket and an extra layer or two as the nights do get cool. Bring all the snacks you want, but pizza, popcorn and soft drinks are sold to help pay for the movies.

At the July 23 showing, Chip Dickinson of Hood River passed the time reading the New York Times sport section, waiting for “E.T.” to start on a 22-by-25-foot outdoor inflatable screen.

“It feels like going to a drive-in,” said Dickinson, who was there with his son, Willem, a second-grader.

“What’s a drive-in?” Willem asked, between mouthfuls of popcorn.

Sherry Amador also remembered. “It reminds me of the old drive-in,” she said. “It’s fun to come and enjoy it, especially on nice evenings like this, especially for the kids. It gives them one more thing to do, and there isn’t always a lot for them to do.” Her daughters, Tiffany, Rose and Alexandria, had taken the car to collect some other friends to bring to the movie.

The experience of the old drive-in was just the kind of feeling Community Education director Mike Schend wanted to fashion when, a year ago, he started putting together a grant request for the $11,000 screen and projector system. Hood River Lions Foundation came through with the grant, and after a dry-run in late June the series opened on July 8.

“I get calls at home from people asking ‘what’s on this week?’ and ‘what time does the movie start?’,” Schend said.

He originally talked with Glen Haack, owner of the Trail, about buying the Trail’s old 70-millimeter projector for use in the park. (The drive-in closed in 2001.) But the 70mm technology is too expensive to maintain, and it would have involved building a “bunker” near the south end of the park lawn, to permanently store the projector. Schend said he knew that would not work, and began researching portable outdoor equipment. After site visits by representatives of several makers, Schend settled on the Blimp Screen, which had the added value of being able to withstand 20-mph winds — a must in Hood River.

“We almost had to cancel” on July 16; the wind was strong enough near dusk, Schend said.

Other than a slight delay from a skipping DVD of “E.T.”, the only technical glitch was in the first week’s showing of “Star Wars.” Schend had announced before the show that in case of an outage, the electrically powered air intake that keeps the screen inflated would collapse and the show would have to be canceled. An hour later, during a key battle scene, the screen suddenly slumped. A hush fell over the crowd, and moments later, the screen rose again. The cause was a balloon in the intake, temporarily cutting off the air.

Schend and the technical and support crew have learned quickly how to operate the screen, projector and speakers. The movies have been an instant success, he said.

“From the very first night, it’s been just great. People really love it,” Schend said, noting that a reporter’s previously published audience estimate of 400-600 should be more like 1,000 each week.

Another nice surprise is that people who never saw a drive-in movie have found a way to get into the Walk-In.

“People are here starting at 7 p.m. and we have little kids who want to help us set up the screen,” he said. “So we let them pull on the tether straps when we stake them into the ground. They really enjoy helping us.”

Pre-movie announcements took a twist for someone else who had eagerly come for the rare chance to see “E.T.” The crowd sang “Happy Birthday” to Schend and to Keith Doroski of Hood River, at the urging of Scott Baker of Parks and Recreation.

“I just loved seeing ‘E.T.’ when it came out and now I have the chance to again, and on my birthday,” Doroski said. It was the first time he had seen it on the big screen since the film came out in 1981.

As dusk neared on July 23, Sherry Amador was settled in with her knitting. She remembered taking those same three little kids to see one of the Muppet movies at the old Trail, and falling asleep in the second feature, waking up in the wee hours when the Muppets were back on for a second showing.

As she waited for the movie to start, Amador knitted a project for the upcoming County Fair, her feet up on her lawn chair equipped with foot rest.

The Walk-In is even better than the drive-in, she said.

“Not all the cars beeping their horns and driving around with their lights on. It’s really relaxing,” she said, knitting needles clicking.

Also in her lap was a bag of Reese’s Pieces, the candy made famous in “E.T.,” the film showing on that night. She passed the bag to some neighbors. “You can’t watch “E.T.’ without Reese’s Pieces,” Amador said.

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