At Z Movies

At Z Movies Goes Al Fresco – StarZ Under the StarZ

Summer is in full swing and now more than ever, Alexandrians are looking for ways to safely enjoy outdoor experiences and social interaction.

The Barns at Hamilton Station winery in Loudoun County screened Dirty Dancing last month to a full lawn and much fanfare. (Photo: Kelly MacConomy)

Alexandria, VA – Summer is in full swing and now more than ever, Alexandrians are looking for ways to safely enjoy outdoor experiences and social interaction. Phase 3, still in effect in Virginia, requires mandatory mask use indoors and recommends masks for use in large groups or crowds outdoors.

Just in time for the dog days of summer, Wolf Trap has announced The Wolf Trap Drive-In. From August 5-9, the East Lot of the Filene Center turns into a pop-up drive-in theater, showing a different film each evening. Tickets are $40 per vehicle. All shows begin at 8:30 p.m., except for the Friday Family Night screening which starts at 7:00 p.m.

The Wolf Trap Drive-In kicks off with Rob Reiner’s 1984 classic musical-comedy parodying rock band documentaries, Spinal Tap. Starring Christopher Guest, Michael McKean, Rob Reiner, the late great Fred Willard, and featuring an all-star cast of legendary cameos and supporting comedic actors, this film is laugh-out-loud hilarious.

Friday night is the family fare sing-along feature Sing about anthropomorphic animals who enter a signing contest hosted by a Koala trying to save his theater. Featuring the vocal talents of Mathew McConaughey, Reese Witherspoon, Seth McFarland, and Scarlett Johansson this animated musical is certain to entertain. There is a special Wolfie Kids Pack for the young at heart: a $15 souvenir pack with a plush wolf toy, two chocolate chip cookies, Wolf Trap-themed coloring pages and crayons. It’s sure to keep the Wolfie Pack pups and the entire den happily entertained while waiting for the virtual curtain to rise.

Saturday’s screening is the award-winning Dream Girls, the Christmas-day drop from 2006 based upon the 1981 hit Broadway musical, bringing a 2007 Best Actress in a Supporting Role Oscar to Jennifer Hudson, as well as, among many other awards, a Golden Globe to Eddie Murphy for Best Supporting Actor and a Golden Globe Best Motion Picture.

This month the parking lot of the Filene Center at Wolf Trap turns into a drive-in movie venue. (Photo: Wolf Trap Center for the Performing Arts)

The pop-up drive-in Wolf Trap film event concludes with the beloved late 80’s Dirty Dancing, starring Jennifer Grey and Patrick Swayze as star-crossed lovers. The plot falls short of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet but the stellar dance moves of Swayze as Johnny, the 1960s Catskills resort dance instructor, and “former Rockette” Penny, played by Cynthia Rhodes, will make you wish upon a star that you had such twinkle toes.

Dirty Dancing is apparently the film of the summer in 2020, much as The Princess Bride was last year. It’s been inconceivable to imagine life returning to any degree of normalcy in these times of COVID-19. The movie that made “Nobody puts Baby in a corner!” a catch phrase for two generations was welcome relief during stay-at-home/safer-at-home isolation amidst a near record 20-day heat wave.

NOVA wineries and other outdoor film venues have been screening the 33-year-old flick since reopening for guests. The Barns at Hamilton Station showed the film on July 10 to well-attended yet socially distanced fanfare.

Movie concessions under the tent offering popcorn, candy, pizza, and wine by the bottle saw booming sales among gaggles of high-heeled gal pals and chilled-out couples (some with canine companions) spread out ten feet or more in every direction. Face masks were always worn by staff and required for guests whenever individuals left their lawn chairs or blankets for any purpose.

The hit 1987 love story has been a popular film screened outdoors this summer after a long movie-going hiatus.

The die-hard Dirty Dancing devotees knew every line and lyric by heart, frequently joining in enthusiastically to the amusement of more inhibited audience members. The big dance finale scene proved to be a temptation to get up and dance, but even the most jubilant guests kept to COVID protocols. No dancing is permitted at most wineries. Maybe the next film shown should be Footloose!

The sultry summer star-lit sky yielded a sense of salubriousness, acting as a tonic even to those who had seen Dirty Dancing countless times. Twinkling sparks of fireflies danced in the vines, weaving in and out of the adjacent evergreen grove like Christmas trees while in the far-off distance flashes of lightning strobed behind the screen. The effect was enchanting, as if the heavens were creating Mother Nature’s own IMAX.

(Editor’s Note: Lionsgate Films, which owns the rights to Dirty Dancing, is reported to be in development of a sequel to the film franchise, to be set in the 1990s with Jennifer Grey reprising her signature role. Looks like Baby is coming out of the corner all over again!)

The Barns at Hamilton Station will have another sip and screen under the stars event in September. They want to screen Hamilton but the cost at this time is prohibitive. For now they are considering Oh Brother Where Art Thou?, the Coen Brothers homage to the traditions of gospel, Delta blues, country, swing and bluegrass of the American South. It’s a perfect choice for a countryside farm winery set in the foothills of the Piedmont Blue Ridge.

Check the websites and social media sites of wineries for more five-star film events. The Wine Reserve at Waterford, formerly Loudoun Valley Winery, now going strong in its fourth year, has shown films in the past. 50 West in Middleburg has screened the Z~Oenology favorite Bottle Shock al fresco. In September, 50 West will be offering drive-in screenings in partnership with the inaugural Loudoun Arts Film Festival. There will also be satellite programming at their sister winery, Sunset Hills Vineyard in Purcellville. Live screenings are scheduled for September 10-13 and 18-20. Online screenings will begin in early September. The film festival programming will be announced early this month.

The Loudoun Arts Film Festival has been in the pipeline since last year, a project of co-founders Kaeley Boyle, an artist and owner of a Leesburg gallery, and Loudoun-based filmmaker/novelist Owen Palmiotti. Their original plan was to hold it at the Tally Ho Theater in Leesburg. When COVID-19 capsized indoor film screenings for the foreseeable future, Boyle and Palmiotti considered postponing the launch but instead decided to adapt and move ahead.

Co-Founder of the Loudoun Arts Film Festival filmmaker and writer Owen Palmiotti. Photo Owen Palmiotti

Moving ahead could have been to a strictly online experience, but then transforming the festival kickoff into a retro-chic drive-in, under a star-spangled sky with Bull Run Mountain as a backdrop, proved to be Heaven sent.

There’s nothing like sipping fine wine while screening films under a starlit sky at a favorite winery or outdoor venue with your best friends. (Photo: Kelly MacConomy)

Even the prestigious Middleburg Film Festival, now in its seventh year, made the move to a drastically reduced, socially distanced live showcase with otherwise predominantly online film screenings.

Whether you pile the family into the minivan this month and head out to Wolf Trap or make a pilgrimage to nearby Loudoun wine country for a vineyard venue or the first ever Loudoun Arts Film Festival, the memories will be priceless.

Pack a picnic, or order one catered from the venue, and plan to catch your favorite star, a rising star, a shooting star, even a comet under a starless sea of clouds, by the light of the silvery moon, or the staccato twinkling of lightning bugs across a field of green and gold. You’ll have the time of your life.

ICYMI: Back to the Movies: AMC Premieres Pandemic Protocols

Kelly MacConomy

Kelly MacConomy is the Arts Editor for The Zebra Press.

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