Maybe it's a coincidence, but ...
The last drive-in movie theater in the metro area, the Council Bluffs Drive-In, closed in 2006.
That next summer, free outdoor movie screenings began at Bayliss Park in Council Bluffs, and concerts with a free movie started in the Holland Center's courtyard in downtown Omaha.
Now at least five public venues in the metro area offer free summer movies under an open sky.
People still love to catch a flick in the great outdoors. As was often the case with drive-in movies, the fresh-air screenings are a popular family activity.
“It's a chance to spend quality time with your family,” said Geoff Hubbard, recreation superintendent for the City of Council Bluffs. “And Bayliss Park is a great location. Lots of people in that neighborhood walk there. Plus it's free.”
Kendra Ingram, vice president of programming and education for Omaha Performing Arts, said she and her staff try to choose movies for the Holland that families might not have seen in a while. Attendance is usually between 300 and 700, she said.
“We've tended to attract a family audience of all ages,” Ingram said. “And because it's free programming, we try to choose music we don't have a series (of OPA events) for.”
While events at the Holland Center and the La Vista Public Library pair a live-music concert with their free movies, other venues such as Sumtur Amphitheater, Bayliss Park and Turner Park have separate free music events on different nights.
Either way, families have come to love it.
“I love movie nights at Sumtur because it feels like the olden days — community members coming together to enjoy each other, the entertainment and the beautiful outdoors,” said Barb Copenhaver Thornburg of Papillion. “It's a great chance to spend time with people you know and make new friends.”
Thornburg said her family has sometimes gone together, but as their kids got older, the free movies at Sumtur became a date night for them. Barb and husband Mark sometimes go with other adult friends now.
“I love to sit outside,” she said. “The little kids are free to run and roll down the hill. You can get up, buy a soft drink and sit back down without disturbing anybody. And I love the people-watching factor of it all.”
Hubbard said the Bayliss Park screenings generally draw 300 to 500 people.
“It doesn't really matter what the movie is,” he said. “It's time with family, neighbors and friends, and it's free.”
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Outdoor movies in the backyard
When the weather is nice in Nate Driml's neighborhood, it's time for movies.
During spring and summer of the last three years, block parties and birthday celebrations have often included a movie screening outdoors.
Driml has three children between the ages of 4 and 7, and he estimates that the Crimson Ridge neighborhood has 25 children under the age of 13. Hosting a barbecue and showing a movie after sundown is much easier than getting a baby sitter and going out to dinner.
“It's wonderful,” he said. “Bring your own blanket and a lawn chair.”
Friends in the neighborhood have shown “The Muppets,” “Grease” and other kid-friendly movies with a movie projector and a blanket, screen or the side of someone's house. When the movie is on, the children settle down and watch while the adults chat and share cocktails.
When the kids find out an outdoor movie is coming up, they'll talk about it all week. Last year, one of the get togethers ended with a showing of “Grease,” which the kids kept referring to as “Sandy and Danny.”
“We had a bunch of 5-, 6- and 7-year-old Olivia Newton-Johns running around all the next week,” Driml said.
-- Kevin Coffey