TELLING STORIES, CHANGING THE CONVERSATION

NYC Parks & Recreation continues a 100-year tradition of outdoor movies

in Ark Weekender/Arts & Culture by

Watching a film with hundreds of New Yorkers in one of the City’s parks is a popular way to experience last glimpses of late summer nights before the start of the fall hustle.

Every warm season, starting in June and running to the end of September, dozens of venues host outdoor film screenings in some of the most interesting places, like cemeteries and rooftops.

Even film festivals take advantage of the warm weather and dewey nights with millions of tourists trekking through the boroughs. However, to watch a free movie screened by Parks & Recreation with local folk who bring a blanket, dinner and a plethora of opinions, captures the old school interactive sport that NYC audiences are known to display.

Parks & Recreation screenings run from Lower East Side to Uptown Manhattan, then speckle into the Bronx, Brooklyn, Queens and Staten Island.

If you want to see the diversity of the Big Apple, catch a flick. The movies can be as radically different as the audiences. One time, I took in a picture show in Harlem to watch a documentary on the history of Black surfers called White Wash. Splayed across the cement amphitheater were myself and all the white hipsters that the rafters could accommodate.

In NYC, diversity is not random acts of political correctness, but a matter of inner city high concentration. Yet and still, sometimes, to really see it and be it, takes a film. With over 150 movies screened by Parks & Recreation and a host of themes connected to showings, movie-goers can “beat that block … be’s the block … [and] be on the block,” according to the BK sage, Jay-Z.

To give a snippet of the wide range of films, earlier in the summer, Whose Streets?, screened in an outdoor party at the First Quincy Street Community Garden in Brooklyn. A documentary covering the Ferguson protests, the film is told by activists and leaders involved in movements seeking justice.

Several times, Black Panther ran and, in between the major scores, indies, docs, shorts and experimental films, classics such as Casablanca and Wait Until Dark are shown. Pop culture cult movies are in rotation too. Terminator, Crooklyn and Gremlins will bring out the kid and the kray kray in us all.

Culture is best served local, but it often travels on the silver screen

Before there was Hollywood, film and cinema reigned supreme in Newark, New Jersey and New York City. Prior to film, outdoor and indoor theater from different ethnic enclaves that were expanding in the City, curated a built in viewership that used entertainment for social and cultural engagement.

By the early twentieth century, cinema culture embedded itself so much into local leisure that by 1927, New York’s Parks & Recreation began to screen films for its residents in one of its green spaces.

NYC plays an important role in film, both domestic and nationally–as a site of early cinema, but also as a popular “on location” destination.  Still today, NYC is one of the most used places for film and TV, and most notably, or rather, after the panoramic shot of the skyline and the Statue of Liberty, the other destination is the parks.

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Kaia Niambi Shivers covers diaspora, news and features.

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