Backyard movie queen confessions

DIY cinema is a happening trend in Halifax living rooms, and in the summer, backyards. Here’s a tale of being the host of a cinema under the stars.

As the operators of a semi-legal backyard trash-movie cinema, my friends and I know we're not particularly unique in Halifax. Many other fine outdoor cinemas have preceded us, including the alFresco filmFesto, which is basically a really big backyard that happens to include the waterfront, and the Roxy, which used to take place behind an apartment building on Creighton Street. But unlike these outdoor screening ventures, ours was unplanned and started entirely by accident---or, more specifically, because of a bike accident.

Last June, my downstairs neighbour Sean jumped on his BMX at 3am and went on a wild and crazy bike ride through the north end. He reached the end of our street, put his foot down to push off the corner, and felt a horrific pain as his leg twisted at an unnatural angle. The next time we saw him, he was laid up on his couch, his leg encased in a cast for six to eight weeks.

"It's OK, you guys can do stuff without me," he insisted, his eyes glazed with painkillers and shame. But we knew we couldn't leave our friend languishing in an empty house night after night while we went out carousing and enjoying various able-bodied pursuits. Something needed to be done.

Out of a moment of charity---or maybe pity---Sean's father loaned him a projector. That day, as we stood outside in the backyard, overgrown grass tickling our ankles, someone suggested we attach a sheet to the upper and lower deck corners, connect the projector to a laptop and see what happened. We went to a big-box retailer and shoplifted a new white bedsheet, tearing holes in each corner and hooking a bungee cord in each hole. We connected Eric's laptop to a set of half-shitty computer speakers and collected a circle of canvas chairs, Sean hobbled out, and once it got dark, the projector went on. At Sean's request, we watched Rambo: First Blood. We expected it to be terrible---it was utterly amazing. As the credits rolled, the six people in attendance cheered. Three more movies followed, and an enduring obsession was formed.

Since then, Sean's leg has healed beautifully and the outdoor screenings have continued. We do them once a weekend as soon as it's warm enough---usually on Saturdays beginning at nightfall. The screenings are growing in size and, dare I say, notoriety: At our last screening there were 36 people in attendance; the largest number of attendees to date. Since our first screening we've screened about 120 films---everything from The Lost Boys (Cry, little sister!) and Heathers to Half-Baked and the great Jean-Claude Van Damme parable Bloodsport. There is nothing better than sharing movies in the comfort of your own backyard---it is truly one of the best parts of summer. That being said, it has also been a learning process. While I would encourage anyone to start doing something like this on their own, I'd also like to include a few pointers:

The difference between good shitty movies and bad shitty movies

While we like all kinds of movies, the ones that seem to go over best in the backyard tend to be the fun ones---creating a participatory, drive-in sort of vibe. "Fun" can describe, say, a classic like Back to the Future, or it can take a entirely different tone, like last weekend's pick DC Cab, which has no discernible plot to speak of and stars two of the greatest actors of our time, Mr. T and Gary Busey. That's what we call a "trashterpiece": a movie possessing a lack of self-awareness to the point of absurdity and the heights of entertainment value. However, a movie that's actually just made poorly---with bad sound quality, sludgy pacing, dark shots and in the case of horror films, predictable kills---may end up boring the crowd and actually might drive people to leave, which inevitably feels like a personal affront. Choose carefully. And that said:

Don't be afraid to throw in a curveball

Last week I brought the film Clue---yes, it's based on the board game---and everyone grumbled, but it was hilarious. Suck it, fools! Last summer we threw on Ravenous, which is a weird, funny, unsettling movie that might be polarizing in certain circles---people who frown upon cannibalism, say---but it remains one of my favourite screenings to this day. On a whim, we showed the '70s sci-fi classic Logan's Run, worrying that everyone would be bored due to its '70s pacing and rather stolid British-ness, but it was a hit. Some evenings reach a perfect balance: An appreciative audience, a bit of drunkenness, a cool night wind and a movie that is engaging regardless of its setting. (The presence of a Peter Ustinov cameo doesn't hurt either.)

Bring a chair. And a blanket.

You're watching movies outside in a backyard in Halifax in the summer, when it's barely hot during the daytime and everything's always wet. If you're already drunk enough that you don't care, that's great! But if you don't like being uncomfortable, we recommend you bring whatever you need---some people bring sleeping bags, blankets, pillows and raincoats. It's a long night and you don't want to leave feeling like garbage.

Don't push your luck

You're running an outdoor cinema in Halifax in your backyard. Unless you live in a field, you'll have neighbours, and they will be listening to your friends bullshitting and laughing all night long. Our neighbours are ridiculously tolerant, so we try to be as fair as possible in return. Do the screenings consistently on a weekend night. Try to wrap things up by 2am (easier said than done sometimes, but you really should try). Don't be a dick.

Once you figure everything out, you, too will learn that watching movies indoors is for chumps. Good luck and godspeed to you, trash cinephile.

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