Film Festival Sets Attendance, Earnings Records
By Rich McManus
On the Front Page...
It used to be that the organizers of NIH's annual Outdoor Film Festival pretty much knew how much money the 10-day event collected before the projector lamp grew cold on the final night of the series. This year, however, it took a few weeks for sponsors Cable TV Montgomery and R&W to tally up proceeds from a variety of food vendors, cash donations and raffle earnings. But money's not the object in this, the festival's third year, when attendance hit the vicinity of 48,000 people and earnings topped $17,000, up from $10,000 last year.
"It's for patients who came from the Clinical Center and the Children's Inn, as well as a contingent from Gallaudet College, and for the people in the community," says R&W President Randy Schools. "That's why we did it, not for the money."
Taking advantage of its site in a natural bowl-like amphitheater between the Medical Center Metro stop and Natcher Bldg., the festival has become a rite of summer for many attendees drawn to a mix of kiddie fare, classic drama and action thrillers that did well at the box office.
"We had more than 10,000 people each night for Casablanca and Raiders of the Lost Ark," estimated Schools. "The place was packed from the subway to Natcher. Rugrats and Willie Wonka did well, also." Rocky, he reported, was marred by rain, "as was Titanic, appropriately enough," he said. "But people sat through it.
"Each evening, there was a different audience," he continued. "Casablanca drew a different crowd than Rugrats. Raiders of the Lost Ark was different from When Harry Met Sally."
Schools credits heavy promotion by local media with the festival's burgeoning attendance. The Washington Post weekend section touted the series, as did Washingtonian magazine, and all of the local television news stations sent reporters; Fox 5 even led the 10 O'Clock News one evening with a feature on the festival as a great thing to do when it's hot and dry in D.C., according to Schools.
"We got lots of positive comments back," he continued. "People just enjoy it. It brings back the feeling of the old open-air drive-in theaters. People said it was great they could celebrate outside with their families. We had birthday parties, anniversaries and other celebrations. Many said it's one of the best things about summer around here."
In addition to the films, shown on a giant screen 40 feet wide by 22 feet high, guests enjoyed dinners and desserts supplied by Hard Times Café, Cone Zone, Potomac Pizza and Fun Foods. Chevron Corp. sponsored games, including a basketball toss, for the kids, and door prizes were offered each night. One evening, NHLBI's Dennis Askwith led 200 people in a country line dance prior to the movie. "Almost the whole crowd got involved it was great," said Schools.
"People really look forward to the festival," he said. "We got lots of calls ahead of time, asking when it would be. And the timing is wonderful before the kids go back to schools and colleges. It's like date night for a lot of people."
Schools and event organizer Bob Deutsch served as emcees most of the 10 nights; other special guests included Ron Gabriel, president of the Brooklyn Dodgers Fan Club, who introduced Field of Dreams, and NIH's own Camille Lewis, reigning Miss Montgomery County, who appeared before West Side Story.
The event's earnings will go to NIH-related charities including the Children's Inn, Camp Fantastic/Special Love, Inc., and Friends of the Clinical Center. More than 100 volunteers pitched in to make the series a success, including additional corporate sponsors HBO, PaxTV, Nickelodeon and AMC.
The annual event is so well received that Schools says a fourth year for the Outdoor Film Festival is planned for Aug. 18-27, 2000. As Humphrey Bogart once said, "Play it again."
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