Kojo talks with author Colson Whitehead about his new novel "The Underground Railroad" and its resonance at this particular moment in history.
Drive-in theaters may be a thing of the past, but you can still catch movie stars under the stars at dozens of outdoor film festivals around our region. From the National Mall to National Harbor, these festivals feature classics, comedies and crowd-pleasers, bringing together families and groups of friends to share a laugh or tear. Best of all, they’re free! Tune in for details and get ready to pack your picnic basket, a blanket and head to your nearest outdoor film screening.
- Tom Brzezinski Coordinator,Columbia Association Summer Lakefront Film Festival (in Columbia Md)
- Nell Minow Movie critic for Beliefnet.com and author of "The Movie Mom's Guide to Family Movies," (2nd Edition)(iUniverse, Inc).
- Murray Horwitz film historian; author; and playwright
MR. KOJO NNAMDIDrive-ins may be a thing of the past, but there's another option for watching movies under the stars. Outdoor movie festivals are going strong. In fact, there are more screens around our region than ever before. Nowadays, with our many devices and our technology, we can watch anything we want, any time we want. So why see a movie outside? Lots of reasons. There's the thrill of watching a movie with the Capital or National Harbor as the backdrop, and outdoor films are all about classics, comedies and crowd-pleasers.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIAll you need to do is check the weather forecast, pack a blanket and perhaps a picnic, and best of all, no need to bring your wallet because it's all free. Joining us to discuss this is Murray Horwitz. He is a film historian, author and playwright, former director of the AFI Silver Theatre. He's also -- I should full disclosure -- a member of WAMU's arts council. Murray, good to see you.
MR. MURRAY HORWITZGood to see you. And I'm now with the Washington Performing Arts Society. So it's great to be back.
NNAMDIExactly right. WPAS.
NNAMDIAlso in studio with us, is Nell Minow. She is known as Movie Mom. She is a film critic for Beliefnet.com and author of "The Movie Mom's Guide To Family Movies." Nell Minow, good to meet you.
MS. NELL MINOWThank you very much.
NNAMDIJoining us by phone from Columbia, Md., is Tom Brzezinski. He is the coordinator of the Columbia Association Summer Lakefront Film Festival, a position he's held for the last four decades. Tom Brzezinski, thank you for joining us.
MR. TOM BRZEZINSKIGlad to do it, Kojo.
NNAMDIMurray, what's so special about seeing an outdoor film?
HORWITZThere is something festive about it, you know? I mean, there's outdoor theater, for sure, an outdoor opera, but you kind of have to be in a theatrical setting like an amphitheater or something. Of course, outdoor concerts are a big deal. So there's something festive just about being outside, but there's something in a way more inclusive about outdoor movies. I mean, nowadays, movies are produced and marketed to within an inch of your demographic life.
HORWITZRight. Exactly so. You got to be, you know, a male from 18 to 26 or else this movie is not meant for you. Or you have to be, you know, a highly educated woman over the age of 50 for this or that. And outdoor movies are really one of the last places where you're looking for -- to agglomerate the biggest audience you possibly can. So the movies have to have a broader appeal.
NNAMDIWhat do you say, Nell?
MINOWWell, I think you identified it right at the top of the topic, which is that more often these days, we're watching movies on our individual personal devices. We're watching them on our cellphones, we're watching them -- I spoke to the producer of "Lord of the Rings," who said, we put so much effort into every detail of those movies. If I thought people are going to be watching them on a two-inch screen, I -- you know, I could've save myself a lot of misery.
MINOWAnd so people are watching them on their iPads, they're watching them in their bedrooms. Families don't even sit around the television and watch movies together. So this is such a community experience. When you get together with your picnic blankets, it's not even like a drive-in when you're in your car. Here, we're all there together, the kids are running around, and the family can do something with the community and enjoy it.
NNAMDIYou're doing -- have been doing this for decades, Tom Brzezinski. What's the attraction?
BRZEZINSKIThe attraction, I think, is families being able to get out together to see a film and all bill they charge is the gas in your car to get there. And also having a lot of popular films like Monday nights at the Lakefront in Columbia, Md., we do nothing but family-friendly films, either G or PG rated. And the Friday night films are G, PG or PG-13, but more on what I would call PG-13 light in that they're not, you know, really the hardcore PG-13 films. And these are titles that the families have requested, and we actually have third-generation people coming back to see the films down there.
NNAMDINell, nowadays, it would seem that there are more outdoor venues than ever. Are we seeing a new interest in outdoor movies?
MINOWWe certainly are. And I think it is kind of the pendulum swinging away from this very individual experience of watching them on your devices. I was delighted that the fabulous new Angelika Mosaic Theater out in Virginia specifically was created with a screen on the outside just for the summer. And so that not only does it have all the state-of-the-art equipment for the inside serious movies but it has one on the outside wall. So you can all just sit there and watch it together.
NNAMDII was listening in on your -- Murray's private conversation with you. I always listen in on most private conversations before...
MINOWYou and the NSA.
NNAMDIAnd he is talking about this in other cultures...
HORWITZWho doesn't? You know...
NNAMDI...in other cultures like in Italy.
HORWITZYeah, yeah. No. We were just talking a little bit right before we went on air about -- this is an old tradition. In Italy, in the 1940s and 50s and in post-war Italy, they had something called the 50 lira escape -- 50 lira, in those days, being, like, very little money, apparently. And you go into a little village, little town square, and on the side of the church, you know, they project a movie, usually some swashbuckling, you know, sword and sorcerer.
HORWITZGladiator movies were really big. They used to turn them out like, you know, sausages out of a sausage machine, and everybody would come. There'd be folding chairs in the town square. And the whole family would come, and you'd pay your, you know, nickel or whatever it was and watch these on the outside of the church.
NNAMDINell, so where...
BRZEZINSKIHe is talking about...
NNAMDIGo ahead, Tom.
BRZEZINSKIHe was talking about the Cinema Paradiso style.
HORWITZRight, exactly so.
HORWITZThat's right. That's right. It's documented there.
NNAMDINell, so where's some of the places we can see films outside this summer?
MINOWWell, I have to say that my favorite is right in front of the Washington Monument on the mall. Those are -- that's -- there is just something about watching a movie in front of the monuments that adds to the grandeur and sometimes the silliness. I think my all-time favorite watching a movie outdoor moment was "Viva Las Vegas," which even in the best of circumstances is kind of an acid trip of a movie.
MINOWAnd this is very important -- you guys may disagree with me. But for me, it's very important that you don't really need to pay careful attention to the plot or the dialogue to truly enjoy an outdoor movie. And this one, you certainly don't. You just want to watch Elvis and Ann-Margret and to do that in front of the Washington Monument...
MINOWYou do that in front of the Washington Monument, and let me just say, as hot as Washington gets in the summer, that one heated it up a little bit more.
NNAMDII was trying -- when I saw "Viva Las Vegas," I was trying to remember the plot 'cause I...
MINOWThere isn't one.
HORWITZThere is -- that's what I was going to say. It helps...
MINOWHe's a -- he drives a race car, and he loses his money, and then he -- and, you know, they dance some more, and then, you know, she pretends not to like him. Then they go out into the Hoover Dam...
MINOW...and then she dances some more.
HORWITZI think the dialogue is just as memorable as the plot. I mean -- but I might differ a little bit or even disagree in that you can have a real movie. One of the great functions -- and, Tom, I'd be interested in your take on this. You say you have third-generation people coming. I think that -- I run into people all the time, like, in their 20s and even their 30s, who have never seen "Casablanca," you know, who have never seen "Singing in the Rain."
HORWITZAnd -- right, shocked. I know. They haven't seen it. But at outdoor screenings, you'll see "Casablanca." You'll see Hitchcock movies.
MINOWIn fact, "Casablanca" is playing on -- just played June 7 at the Heurich House, which is one of the best of the outdoor venues right now and is having all classics. So I'm delighted. They got "Rear Window."
MINOWThey've got "Indiana Jones," "Some Like It Hot." So I think that's great, and I think it is -- a classic is good, particularly if you do know it and you can kind of relax into it and just enjoy the experience.
NNAMDII got to tell you, Murray, you're telling the truth because when I say I'm shocked, shocked that that's an everyday occurrence...
MINOWOh, yeah. Yes.
NNAMDI…there are a lot of young people who have no idea what I'm talking about.
HORWITZNo idea, you know?
HORWITZAnd that's OK, you know? I mean...
MINOWNo, it isn't.
HORWITZ...I remember my mother crowing about the original silent movie of "Cimarron," and like...
HORWITZ...oh, my gosh, you've never seen it, have you?
HORWITZI still haven't.
NNAMDIAnyway, Tom, your turn. We're leaving you out.
BRZEZINSKIWell, what we try to do, we try to do in Columbia a cross-section of older films and newer films, and it seems that the newer films sort of went out. But one of the things I try to do is also introduce like a family -- we're showing "The Goonies," which is not the greatest film in the world, but it's still one of the ones that past generations remember. And it's interesting. A lot of kids never heard of "The Goonies."
BRZEZINSKIAnd so it's a nice fresh film to be discovered. But one of the things I try to do, a lot of the films are related to something new that's coming out. For example, we'll be doing "Despicable Me" since the new one opens up on July 3. We've got, oh, "Brave." We've got "Monsters, Inc.," "ParaNorman," "Matilda" because it's a big hit on Broadway, and "Red," the original "Red" film with Bruce Willis because the new film opens up on July 19.
BRZEZINSKISo we try to include a lot of things that the people themselves have requested, and we'll go back and we'll do "Goldfinger," and on a Friday night and Saturday night, we'll do "Skyfall." And on Labor Day weekend, we do a Marvel superhero comics weekend with "Iron Man," "The Avengers" and "Captain America: The First Avenger."
NNAMDIBut this all got started -- 42 years ago, you started this festival. How did it get started?
BRZEZINSKIWell, I opened up the first elementary school in Columbia back in 1968, and that summer I was about...
NNAMDIAnd Columbia was brand-new, yes.
BRZEZINSKIBrand spanking new, and we thought -- I thought I'd give something back to the community. So I took a projector, took a bed sheet, rented a couple of films and took them to the local park, ran an extension cord over the Holland bars outdoor electrical plug and passed out -- remember the old purple dittos -- passed out purple dittos. This is the families in the area, and they circulated them.
BRZEZINSKIAnd we got about 100 or so people out to watch it. And finally, after two years of doing that, Pat Kennedy, the president of the Columbia Association, said, well, why don't we take it down to where the main lake is? So we did that down there. They erected a big piece of plyboard where the Howard Hughes Building now stands. And I would take masking tape, king-sized bed sheet, a card table, the projector and everything else.
BRZEZINSKIAnd then after one summer of that, Columbia said, well, let's do something seven nights a week. So we moved over where Clyde's Restaurant is located almost right next door, nice sloping hillside. We put up a 15- to 18-foot-wide screen, and every Monday night and every Friday night, it's family movie time.
HORWITZI'm fascinated. What was your first movie in 1968?
BRZEZINSKI19 -- you know, I wish I could remember.
HORWITZMaybe it was the original "Cimarron." Never mind.
MINOWMaybe it was "Viva Las Vegas."
BRZEZINSKIWell, you know, we have shown Elvis, and we have shown some silent films. We've showed "The Gold Rush." We've showed "The General." We've showed "The Circus" with Buster Keaton -- oh, that's not...
BRZEZINSKIBecause it's not as widely known as some of his other films. And we tried to do international films like "Cinema Paradiso," but every five years, I bring it out of mothballs, and we'd play it down there. And, you know, it's a nice cross-section of people, nice cross-section of films. And, again, a lot of it is the input that the people themselves give and what they would like to see down there.
NNAMDIWell, I bet she takes us all back, as a matter of fact. We're going to take a short break. When we come back, we'll continue this conversation on outdoor movies. 800-433-8850 is our number. Do you enjoy outdoor movies? Is there an outdoor film festival where you are? What kinds of films do you like to see under the stars, classics, comedy, family affair? Give us a call, 800-433-8850, or send email to email@example.com. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWe're talking outdoor movies with Nell Minow, known as Movie Mom, film critic for beliefnet.com and author of "The Movie Mom's Guide to Family Movies." Murray Horwitz is a film historian, author and playwright, former director of the AFI Silver Theatre. He is now director of development with the Washington Performing Arts Society. And Tom Brzezinski is the coordinator of the Columbia Association Summer Lakefront Film Festival, a position he has held for the past 42 years or so.
NNAMDIWe got an email from someone who said, "I saw '12 Angry Men' on the Mall a couple of years ago. Great to see it again, and it's a serious classic, did work well." Someone else said, "In Greece, most movies in summer are outdoors. You pay. You sit in chairs." What kinds of films would you say lend themselves to the outdoor movie experience, Nell and Murray?
MINOWI think the films that are best seen outdoors are big and colorful and don't have intricate plots or witty dialogue. I have to say that I think the last movie I would want to see outdoors is something like "The King's Speech," but I see that Crystal City will be showing that outdoors later this month. They're also...
NNAMDII, too, am puzzled by why you don't think that...
MINOWAnd also "The Social Network." I think indoor movie -- you know, movies where people are sitting in rooms talking a lot, I think, are not -- don't really. So I would not think...
HORWITZRight. "My Dinner with Andre" would not be my first candidate.
MINOWWell, I would -- I wouldn't pick "12 Angry Men." So I'm glad to hear somebody thought that was good.
MINOW"A Beautiful Mind" is also on the Crystal City schedule. Now, the ones that they have that I do think are perfect for outdoors, "Jaws," I think, is a great choice.
MINOW"Jurassic Park," I think, is an absolutely terrific choice, and "The Wizard of Oz."
NNAMDIYeah. How about "Psycho?"
MINOWThat could be.
HORWITZWell, you know, that...
NNAMDIComing to the National Mall on Monday, Aug. 6.
HORWITZThat -- see, that puzzles me. There's a lot of Hitchcock done outdoors.
HORWITZAnd actually, when I was at AFI, I think we did one in Silver Spring before the theater was actually built. We did "Rear Window" or one -- "Vertigo," one of those. And, you know, you wouldn't think that Hitchcock, which is something you really have to follow very, very closely, especially in a downtown location, like Downtown Silver Spring or I guess the Mall, where there might be sirens going by, there might be motorcycles going by would not be -- but Hitchcock is very popular out of doors.
NNAMDIIs it possible that "Psycho" has by now become camp, if you would?
HORWITZYeah, or so ingrained into the national consciousness.
MINOWI think ingrained is the thing is that when you're watching it with a large group, the fact that you can all sort of recite the lines along with it, I don't think "Psycho" will be ever be camp. It's a very powerful film no matter what you do. But I think the shared experience makes is really, really powerful.
HORWITZYeah. And I agree about colorful and splashy and -- I mean, I would think for classics, almost like any MGM musical would be perfect for out of doors and some of the contemporary animated films, some of which have become sort of instant classics, "Toy Story" and the like. And then for contemporary films, almost any sci-fi, you know, some are blockbusters.
MINOW"2001" would be a great idea.
HORWITZ"2001," well, and yeah, you could have a very widescreen.
NNAMDIWhen we say family friendly, Nell, Tom, does that mean there's never any R-rated movies on the schedule for these outdoor film festivals?
BRZEZINSKIWell, we did try to get (word?) "King's Speech" in an edited version. I really loved the film and had a passion for it. But we do not show anything that's R-rated outdoors because of having a mixed-family audience. But we did try to show "The King's Speech" in the PG-13 version, which, of course, just takes out one particular word. But we could not get it in time from the producers, so we had to cancel it. "Social Network," by the way, we had 500 people coming out to see "Social Network." So...
HORWITZI think they found out about this...
BRZEZINSKI...I did (unintelligible) since you were mentioning it earlier.
HORWITZThey must've found out about the screening on Facebook, isn't it?
BRZEZINSKIWe do have a fairly sophisticated audience in Howard County, it appears. And they sometimes really want to see some of these edgier films. But we try not to get, like I said, into anything that's PG-13 with a real edge, bordering one in NR rating. And that we found out it works better that way. "Rock of Ages," for example, we wouldn't show, but we would show "Hairspray," the musical, to give you an example.
MINOWI think it's interesting that in the Rosslyn Outdoor Film Festival this year, they're all teen related. And I think that that is something that everyone can relate to. And I think it will draw in a lot of teenagers. They got "The Breakfast Club," "Ferris Bueller's Day Off," "Fame," "Can't Hardly Wait," "High School Musical 3." And I think that's a nice way to get everybody. But I think some R-rated violent movies might do well, "Night of the Living Dead."
HORWITZRight. Oh, yeah.
MINOWYeah. I think that might do very well.
HORWITZAbsolutely. And you could do a George Romero outdoor festival.
HORWITZThat'd be great.
NNAMDIHere is Sam in Silver Spring, Md. Sam, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
SAMHi. Long-time listener. Thanks for taking my call. When I was in high school and college, I worked as a lifeguard most of the time. And most every pool I worked at had something they called a dive-in theater night.
SAMAnd they would -- they'd set up a sheet next to the pool, have a projector. Kids could bring in rafts and watch it from the pool.
MINOWIt's really wow.
SAMOr you could sit on the other side, you know, you'd watch it backwards but you could still see it and hear it. And they always got great reception. It was usually a Pixar movie or something. But that's something I worked at, you know, four or five different pools, and they all have some sort of variation on that. So that was just something I wanted to share and...
HORWITZWell, I'm glad you did. It didn't show "The Abyss" or "Waterworld" I hope, but, you know...
NNAMDIA dive-in movie, Sam.
SAMNo, and I think...
NNAMDIYou used to work as a lifeguard. Let me tell you a little bit about our guests here because even though Nell is known as Movie Mom, she's got another job in which she is one of the country's most respected corporate government experts and a lawyer. What attracts you to being the Movie Mom?
MINOWWell, my husband likes to say I managed to find not one but two jobs where I do nothing but complain all the time. So...
MINOW...with regard to corporate governance, I am always the -- I am "outraged" at the end of the article of any corporate malfeasance. And I seem to complain a lot about movies, too. But I'm a bossy oldest child, and my husband gives me nothing to complain about, so you got to have someone...
NNAMDIWell, Sam, you used to be a lifeguard. In another life of which he is very proud, Murray Horwitz used to be Ringling Bros. Barnum & Bailey clown performer.
HORWITZThat's true. What is...
HORWITZAnd I don't think I saved nearly so many lives as Sam did, but, you know...
HORWITZ...we tried to get people to laugh.
NNAMDIWhat's the relationship between that and your fascination with movies?
HORWITZOh, my gosh. I'd have to say the audience. I mean, you know, just one of the great things about being a circus clown and, mind you, I was a younger man at the time. I started out when I was 20 in the Ringling show. But, you know, for three years, I was going around the country, appearing in front of audiences twice a day, three times on Saturday.
HORWITZAnd there's just no better way to learn 'cause, believe me, if you are not funny as a clown on the Ringling show, the audience will let you know very, very quickly. And so I've just always been involved in things. I mean, now at the Washington Performing Arts Society, before at AFI, at NPR for a long time, where, you know, I guess I've developed a kind of a sense of the audience that seems to work. I try to make things that people seem to like.
NNAMDIBecause at NPR, it was music, OK, and now here it's movies.
HORWITZYeah, yeah. Well, it was also "Wait Wait... Don't Tell Me!" (unintelligible).
NNAMDIThis is true. Sam, thank you very much for your call. Here is Ellen in Washington, D.C. Ellen, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
ELLENHi, Kojo. I'm just calling because I believe it was Jodie who mentioned the outdoor films and what films are better as outdoor films. And I just wanted...
NNAMDIOh, that was Nell. But go ahead.
ELLENWell, but that was 60 years ago, I saw "The Long Gray Line" as a little girl in an outdoor theater in Aberdeen, Md. And I still have vivid memories of that movie.
HORWITZThat, you know...
ELLENIt was with Tyrone Power and Maureen O'Hara.
MINOWThat's right. It's classic.
ELLENYeah. So I just -- I remember the vividness of "The Long Gray Line" marching towards us as we were sitting in our parents' car with our pajamas on.
NNAMDIDirected by John Ford.
NNAMDIThank you very much for your call, Ellen. Tom, you talked earlier about your early process when you got started. Where did you -- in those days, you had to get several large reels of film shipped to you. How about now?
BRZEZINSKINow, everything is digital. Everything is on the DVD. And being honest, it is a brighter image on the screen than we have with the old 16-millimeter projectors. And they just simply stopped making films that way for non-theatrical type of use. So everything you see on most outdoor cinemas now is 3-D -- is a DVD-type of projection.
HORWITZAnd also the technologies you find with the screen, too, do you use an inflatable screen? They have these blow-up screens that are really, you know...
BRZEZINSKINo, we haven't. We have a big piece of canvas, and we have two big poles that help set it up. So it's about four feet off the ground, which gives it high enough for people all the way in the back to see. And I like I said, we've had up to -- close to 1,000 people in the past to come down and see the films, but we averaged probably 400 people per night.
MINOWAnd what's your audio set up, Tom?
BRZEZINSKIAudio set up is a large sound system with upfront speakers. And I try to balance it so that the people in the back can hear it, people at front are not being blown out of their folding chairs or off their blankets. And it seems to work fine. I try to patrol around the area just to make sure that the sound is adequate, that the picture quality is good and to see if people have any comments as far as, you know, new things look OK and did they feel comfortable being there. And we'd never had a problem. And it's been great doing it for all these years.
NNAMDISpeaking of digital, most of the movie theaters in town now show only digital copies. Is this a good thing, or is there some magic lost in your view? Nell and then Murray.
MINOWI'm always a little sorry when I don't see that four, three, two, one countdown at the beginning of the movie. I do feel that movies made from light are better than movies made from pixels. But certainly the convenience and the cost reduction and the wider availability more than makes up for the fact that you're watching them on digital.
NNAMDIWhat do you think, Murray?
HORWITZWell, it's -- in a way, it doesn't matter what any of us thinks because it's just here. I mean, in a way, it's -- in a way, it's like saying, well, gee. I mean, what are the birds going to do now that people don't uses -- the horses anymore? They use automobiles. I mean, it's just -- it's what it is. And I agree with Tom. The image is actually brighter.
HORWITZThe sound is not necessarily better, but it's more present. I mean, it's more manipulable. (sic) And the thing about all digital technology is that it's changed our aesthetic. It's not anymore, how can we faithfully represent what went on? It's, how can we best manipulate it for the best audience experience? And sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't.
NNAMDIThen I'm afraid that's all the time we have. Murray Horwitz is director of development with the Washington Performing Arts Society. He's a film historian, author and playwright. Murray, always a pleasure.
HORWITZAlways a pleasure. Thanks so much.
NNAMDINell Minow is known as Movie Mom. She is film critic for Beliefnet.com and author of "The Movie Mom's Guide to Family Movies." Thank you so much for joining us.
NNAMDIAnd Tom Brzezinski is the coordinator for the Columbia Association Summer Lakefront Film Festival. Tom, thank you for joining us.
BRZEZINSKIIt's a pleasure, and we'll see you outdoors at the movies.
NNAMDIAnd thank you all for listening. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
Most Recent Shows
Kojo explores what's next for Chinatown residents fighting against a developer who wants to demolish their building.
Is a meal for a special occasion worth hundreds of dollars?
Fairfax County residents will vote on whether to adopt a four percent meal tax ballot measure on November's ballot. We explore why the ballot question has become such a hot-button issue in the county.