So now you know my bias. I'm happy to report that here in Santa Cruz, we've got one of the best ones around, and I only had to travel a tenth of a mile from my house to find it. It's an outdoor screening series called the Santa Cruz Guerilla Drive-In (at thespoon.com), and the name pretty much speaks for itself (though most people ride up on bikes and trek in on foot, so it could just as easily be called the Guerilla Walk-In). Every other Friday throughout the summer, the GDI springs up unexpectedly in the fields and industrial wastelands of our fair city. The organizers mix their love of film with a mission to reclaim public space, hoping to "transform our urban environment into the joyful playground it should be." The films run the gamut -- this summer they've shown everything from Chicken Run to Dark Days with a lot of snarky shorts in between. Oh, and have I mentioned the best part yet? It's FREE. A hat gets passed at intermission for contributions toward necessities like spare projector bulbs, but no one looked askance at the broke-beyond-belief guy sitting next to me who sheepishly waved at the hat mumbling "I'm living in my car right now" (my date pitched in $5 on his behalf).
City officials have chased the GDI off of several spots, many of which are excellent venues for alfresco cinema and are not being used for anything else -- the underside of a footbridge, for example, or the concrete wall of a shut-down public works project. This past Friday, the venue was the side of an industrial building in a remote railroad shipyard. The projection equipment was set up on the rocky moraine of the tracks, and run off of an extension cord grabbing power from a neighboring winery's storage facility. The video projector was carefully balanced on the raised track at the perfect tilt to throw a 30 foot image onto the side of a random building across the way. Speakers faced us; a pile of components were stacked on top of one another -- I assume a DVD player, VCR, mixing deck and the like, but it was a little too dark to make them all out. The producer in me kept fretting about what would happen if a train came whizzing by, but no one else seemed concerned, so I burrowed under my blanket, nipped at my paper cup full of wine, and watched the fading sun set through a tangle of electrical wires.
Crowds assemble for the GDI by word of mouth, fliers and e-mail blasts that go out a few days before the next screening. The films, while always fun, are almost beside the point for a lot of folks who come. It's more about the experience, the sense of rebelliousness and spontaneity, of creating a "happening." There's an appealing camaraderie too, especially when you're hunkered down against the cold and fog sharing homemade popcorn, storebought cookies, and the occasional spliff with a bunch of like-minded cinema adventurers. There were probably 60 of us there this past Friday to see a documentary about an obscure island in the South Pacific and the eco-revolution waged by its natives against the military-industrial complex of Papua New Guinea and its partner in crime, Australia. Coconut Revolution was all the things a good socio-political documentary should be: surprising, informative, inspiring, and blessedly concise. It was preceded by a bunch of hilarious shorts "approved for subversive audiences." A few of them were pixilated, probably overcompressed during their download from the web, but no one minded much. My favorite moment was when a homeless guy wandered down the railroad tracks with a bottle in one hand and his belongings slung over his shoulder. He was stunned when he came across our group, but was very polite about not stepping in front of the projector. Instead, he gingerly tiptoed over the power cables, spread out his sleeping bag, and joined in the fun.
Santa Cruz Guerilla Drive-In is next showing Monty Python and the Holy Grail on Friday, September 16th.