A summer treat: watching the stars under the stars

Friday night in Little Italy is more than just a movie

Outside: sports, activities, events

July 08, 2004|By Sarah Schaffer | Sarah Schaffer,SUN STAFF

It's not every day that a 17-year-old Cher flick can draw throngs of eager moviegoers.

But then again, last Friday's screening of Moonstruck - the perennial kickoff of Little Italy's Open-Air Film Festival - was more than just any regular old event for more than 1,000 Baltimore area residents.

People of every stripe - city dwellers, suburbanites, young and old - gathered under the stars and in the outdoor-cinema amphitheater (also known as the Da Mimmo Restaurant parking lot) for the showing of the 1987 romantic comedy at the sixth annual festival.

And as the film played out on a large white plywood "screen," many in attendance agreed: The experience made for a magical evening.

On his stoop and inside his home with friends and neighbors, Jamie McLeland said watching the weekly films has become a tradition that he looks forward to sharing with loved ones every year.

"I was just telling them, `Where else could you go to sit outside and enjoy a free movie in the community?'" said the Little Italy resident.

McLeland said the series is also a means for former Baltimoreans to reconnect with those they once knew.

"A lot of the people who have moved out of the neighborhood will come back to the city to watch the movies and see old friends. I think it's good for the neighborhood," McLeland added.

The celebrated festival may now be a boon - both socially and economically - for the area and its tiny eateries, but the outdoor movie series didn't start out drawing thousands.

In 1999, the first film attracted only 130 spectators from the surrounding homes, said organizer and Da Mimmo Restaurant owner Mary Ann Cricchio.

But today, "people are coming from all over," she said.

Cricchio believes that each screening now attracts about 1,500 faithful patrons - a group that includes McLeland, other Little Italy locals and out-of-towners alike.

Towson residents Laura and Larry Malkus were among many who drove into the city to experience the event for the first time.

As they dined on takeout in the middle of High Street, the couple said it was the novelty of watching old films under the stars that makes the outdoor festival quaint.

"We thought it would be a nice way to spend the evening. ... [It's] a nice atmosphere," Laura said from a strategically placed lawn chair just before the start of the feature.

And though the movie hadn't yet played, she and Larry - and perhaps many more in the crowd - were certain of one thing: They'd be coming back.

Little Italy Open-Air Film Festival

All films are scheduled to begin at 9 p.m. at the intersection of High and Stiles streets.


It Happened One Night: Frank Capra directs this 1934 tale that pairs a street-smart reporter (Clark Gable) and a wayward heiress (Claudette Colbert).

July 16

A Fish Called Wanda: John Cleese, Kevin Kline and Jamie Lee Curtis star in this 1988 comedy about a group of jewelry thieves.

July 23

Like Water for Chocolate: In this Spanish-language film, a lovelorn Mexican woman, Tita, learns to channel her intense feelings into the art of cooking. With English subtitles.

July 30

The Pink Panther: Peter Sellers stars as Inspector Jacques Clouseau in this classic 1963 comedy.

Aug. 6

A Night at the Opera: Groucho, Chico and Harpo Marx help two opera stars find love and success in this decades-old film.

Aug. 13

Diner: Barry Levinson wrote and directed this coming-of-age movie set in Charm City, Christmas 1959.

Aug. 20

After the Fox: Vittorio De Sica directs this 1966 comedy, also starring Peter Sellers.

Aug. 27

Cinema Paradiso: A favorite of Little Italy's Open Air Film Festival, Cinema Paradiso is an Italian film that chronicles the life story of a man, Salvatore, and his long-held love of the movies. With English subtitles.

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