- RUTHERFORD: You can bring a picnic.
In the summers when I was a kid, my parents used to take us to the Asher Drive-In, where the start time for the movie was always determined by God. By the time the sun had gone orange and glassy on the horizon, the cars would be lined up, filing into the lot below the screen. My dad would pop the trunk, break out the lawn chairs and a blanket, and we would sit in front of the two-foot wide bumper of my mother's Pontiac and watch a movie under the stars. I didn't appreciate it then, but now I know it for what it was: one of the rare, simple joys of life.
The tragedy of it — with those summers 30 years gone and the Asher Drive-In long since fallen to weedy ruin — is that there's a whole generation of people now who have never experienced watching a movie outdoors.
Blake Rutherford wants to change that. See, Blake's a movie buff. He might even qualify as a Movie Nut. Just home from law school a few years back, he was walking through Little Rock's River Market when he had a revelation: why not show movies outside? At that moment, on a sidewalk outside Sticky Fingerz, Movies in the Park was born. It's one of our readers' top choices for a cheap date.
Since its founding, the event has grown into a Wednesday night institution: PG and PG-13 flicks (and maybe a very soft R, like this year's “When Harry Met Sally”), some of them almost older than Rutherford himself, played out in the wind.
“We want to offer different genres that people really enjoy,” he said. “People love the animated movies that are very kid friendly. They like the romantic comedies, and they like a little bit of action. So we try and give them something for everybody.”
This year's schedule featured “Batman Begins,” “The Bourne Supremacy,” “The Princess Bride,” and “Juno.”
Thanks to a slate of donors lined up by Rutherford and friends, admission is free. That mix of cheap fun, friendly atmosphere, and great movies has been understandably popular. Last year, Movies in the Park drew an average of 1,800 people a showing. While you might think attendance would taper off as the summer got more hot and sticky, that really isn't the case, Rutherford said. “Last year, we had big crowds for our first movie and our last movie,” he said.
Watching a movie with 1,800 people is a wonderful time, Rutherford said, one that most moviegoers have never experienced. Above all, he just wants people to enjoy themselves. He lets the film and mother nature take care of the rest. He said the films will keep rolling on Wednesday nights as long as there's interest.
“The movie theater experience is wonderful, but [Movies in the Park] is different,” he said. “You get the feel of the breeze, you get the backdrop of the city. We're right on the banks of the river. It's casual and it's fun. You can camp out on your blanket, bring a picnic, bring a Frisbee, let your kids run around. You can just have a relaxed and enjoyable atmosphere that nobody else has in central Arkansas.”
Movies in the Park will end its 2009 season on Wednesday, Aug. 5, with a “People's Choice” movie that has yet to be determined. The show starts at dusk.