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Classic Films Spark Summer Magic At Cinema Under The Stars

A sign showing what's screening at Cinema Under The Stars in Mission Hills, M...

Photo by Kris Arciaga

Above: A sign showing what's screening at Cinema Under The Stars in Mission Hills, May 23, 2019.

Summer signals outdoor movies in many communities. Outdoor cinema can be enjoyed year-round, thanks to San Diego’s warm climate. Cinema Under The Stars has been playing classic movies for nearly three decades. What’s deemed “classic film” has changed over the years, and so has the Mission Hills neighborhood where the movie house resides.

“I'd say it's my magnificent obsession,” said Ralph DeLauro, the cinema's film exhibitor. DeLauro and cinema owner Doug Yeagley met with KPBS Evening Edition host Ebone Monet to talk about cinema and its unique experience. Here are some of the highlights from that interview.

Video by Kris Arciaga

Q: How do you decide which film to show?

DeLauro: It’s a collaborative process. We've been doing this since 1991. There are a certain number of films that have worked all the time. Things like "The Princess Bride," "The Big Lebowski," "Casablanca," "Roman Holiday." So they are shown every year until the audiences let us know that they're no longer interested. Then there are films that we found that worked over the years that we rotate, maybe every three years or so. And then every year we like to introduce maybe about 20% of the season schedule devoted to films that we've never screened before because we're always looking to expand the audience.

Q: How do you know when a film works?

DeLauro: When we've had good audience response to a movie, meaning when we show a film and it draws lots of people or it sells out in a very short period of time. I do think on two levels. We do get a broad range of people. We get people from 17 to 75 and that covers a lot of territory. And yet, you're trying to find something that has some kind of universality that will appeal to a teen as well as somebody in their retirement years. I don't know that you can actually describe that's magic. It's like the definition of pornography. I can't define it, but I know it when I see it. It's the same kind of thing, you know greatness when you see it.

Q: What is the benefit of seeing a film in this setting as opposed to maybe a more traditional way?

DeLauro: To me, an evening here is magical and romantic. Magic is a very fragile component. But I think it's magical. It’s romantic. I think it's unique, and I think you leave with a smile on your face. Doug Yeagley has always tried to make a safe haven, if you will, for a community together. And that's always been my thrust too. Really, showing films is just a cheap excuse to bring people together, and if it takes film to do that, I'm all for it.

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