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Downtown's hottest movie ticket

KEVIN KLAUS/ Arizona Summer Wildcat
A volunteer prepares a film projector for last Thursday's showing of A Kiss Before Dying at La Placita in downtown Tucson.
By Orli Ben-Dor
Arizona Summer Wildcat
Wednesday July 9, 2003

Tucsonans gather in La Placita Village to see classic flicks, revive downtown community

The orange and purple paint of La Placita Village echoes the hues of the sunset as the audience, whose energy radiates just as brilliantly, lays out old blankets and lawn chairs to find a way to get comfortable in the courtyard. As the sun sets and the air cools, the friendly chatter and youthful giggles of the crowd quiet to a pleasant hum on a pleasant night. It's that time of the week again.

Every Thursday night from May to October, Cinema La Placita ÷ a free, outdoor, classic film series ÷ draws devoted regulars and curious newcomers away from their televisions and into downtown. There are no tricks to hear a sales pitch or political soapbox, Cinema La Placita has no hidden agendas.

"I've always been interested in downtown's revitalization. What we really wanted to do was show that there are a variety of things to do downtown," Erika O'Dowd, the founder and coordinator of Cinema La Placita, said.

O'Dowd proudly emphasized that the cinema series has been successful in attracting people who don't usually spend time downtown to check out the scene.
KEVIN KLAUS/ Arizona Summer Wildcat
Moviegoers enjoy a film and the night air at La Placita in downtown Tucson. Movies are shown there every Thursday.

"Sometimes it's their introduction to downtown. For some people it's the first time they've been down here in years other than for jury duty. It's not just bars and it's not just clubs," she said.

Chris Friskey, her husband, and their two toddlers have been enjoying Cinema La Placita religiously; they discovered it nearly three years ago.

"We lucked into this place," Friskey said.

Friskey's children have the freedom to run around the lawn playing with other mini-moviegoers, which they much prefer over traditional hush-filled movie theaters. Frisky said both her kids have so much fun before the movie starts that by the end of the movie, both are passed out.

And while O'Dowd succeeded in introducing a familyöoriented event to downtown, Cinema La Placita can also be a fresh (and frugal) first act in the a night-out on the town for the college crowd.

Check it out:

What: Cinema La Placita, an outdoor film series featuring mostly classic films
Where: La Placita Village. It's downtown at Broadway and Church St.
When: Every Thursday from May through the end of October. The movie will start around 8 or when it gets dark. Get there early (6 p.m.) to snag a chair, secure some blanket space and meet your movie-watching neighbors.
What to Bring: If you don't get a chair, be prepared with a blanket and some pillows. The showing's around dinner, so either pack some food ( no alcohol is permitted) or grab a bite at one of the cafŽs located on the plaza.

"The movie gets out by 10 p.m. You can still go down to Hotel Congress for a drink," O'Dowd suggested.

"You can bring a date, drop $10 in the donation box and look just golden after spending just 10 bucks," she beamed.

O'Dowd asks everyone to visit the donation box, no matter how tight their budget. It is, after all, conveniently located next to the free popcorn.

Josh Pope, 27, from Kentucky, dished out the popcorn last Thursday. He has been involved with Cinema La Placita for the past two seasons and, like O'Dowd, encourages donations.

Having just made a new and improved donation box, Pope explains that about one-half of the funding for the series comes from individual donations. Thus, without audience support, Thursdays at La Placita Village would be quiet and empty.

This, however, has not always been the case. For the first two seasons a grant covered the cost to show the films. Back then the donations from the audience went to help the renovation of the Fox Theatre in downtown Tucson.

Cinema La Placita donated roughly $2,000 its first year and $3, 600 its second year to the Fox Theatre, said Jennifer Mix, administrative assistant to the Fox Tucson Theatre Foundation.

But the grant money has now run out and Cinema La Placita relies strictly on private donations and business sponsorship.

To help support Cinema La Placita and to ensure good company, bring a friend or coworker. But don't underestimate how easy it is to meet people in such a friendly atmosphere. As of now, Cinema La Placita has resulted in one engagement (they met during "A Shot in the Dar") and plenty of new friendships.

So set the VCR to record that must-see TV, pack some sandwiches, bring a blanket and melt into the colors and sounds of Cinema La Placita this summer.


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