MobMov creates a new guerrilla theater while reviving drive-in culture
Monday, July 30, 2007
The crescent moon over the Bay Bridge was a stunning twinkle of lights through the windshield, but all eyes were sharply focused on the flickering projections on the warehouse wall. We're parked in a vacant lot in what must remain an undisclosed S.F. location. We are MobMov for the next few hours – a brief and nerdy flash mob of drive-in enthusiasts gathered to view the night's feature presentation from the comfort of our bucket seats.
With bags of popcorn and Hot Tamales on the dashboard, about 15 cars nestle like sardines and tuned to the same radio frequency – the short-term sound system that serves as the modern-day speaker attached to the window ledge from drive-ins of years ago. The other reminder that this isn't 1957: As we prepare for the feature presentation, the projected image is the familiar interface of Microsoft Windows, and the whole event is being fueled by the car battery of a Toyota RAV4.
The night's film, as broadcast via e-mail just two days before the show, which was held last week: "A Simple Curve," a quiet art film that tells the snoozy story of a Canadian woodworker at a crossroads. The previous show was "Monty Python and the Holy Grail." And in the East Bay, the drive-in classic "Night of the Living Dead" is next in line. Wrap it all in some public-domain Superman cartoon shorts and vintage drive-in trailers, and you've got a theatrical experience that the mall movie theater can't touch.
The brains behind the MobMov (short for mobile movie) concept and the technology belong to Bryan Kennedy, Web developer by day, and this particular night's "driver" – MobMov code for film curator and guy with the projection equipment. He is one of about 200 drivers nationwide.
For Kennedy, the technology to make it happen, the underground notice only to those in the know and sharing the films that he loves with others is not only entertainment but also a political act. His mission is to question the Hollywood stronghold on film distribution and creativity, to drive attention to forgotten urban corners that see little good use after dark and to create multipurpose land-use models that make the most of the city's real estate.
"This is a cheap way of getting films out there and a network for indie filmmakers to release films. I would love for people to start making films especially for the MobMov circuit," he says.
And he could be on to something. The producers of "We Are the Strange," a Sundance-selected title, were offered a traditional for-pay distribution deal, but turned it down to do a nationwide tour via MobMov, beginning in August.
During intermission (yes, it's a drive-in, and, of course, there's an intermission), people get out of their cars to chat, play with the Nintendo Wii on hand and grab a candy bar while Kennedy describes MobMov's history. In 2005, he'd heard of the Santa Cruz Guerrilla Drive-In, but he was disappointed to learn that it was actually a "walk-in" movie. Kennedy longed for the real deal – car included – and knew that he'd need a method to show films on the go.
"I like to tinker with stuff," Kennedy modestly recalls. "I called Toyota and the projector company, and no one could tell me what a car battery could support. I researched it, crossed my fingers and hoped that it would work."
And to share his expertise with others, Kennedy has painstakingly detailed technical instructions for others to create their own local MobMov on his Web site, www.mobmov.org .
Attendees – college students, hipsters, families and everyone in between – seem to be attracted to the intersecting parallels of art and kitsch, the familiar and the unknown.
Veteran drive-in lover Brewster Kahle of San Francisco brings his 10-year-old son, Logan, to the event to re-create his own childhood experiences, and because "it's a summertime tradition."
For couple Aaron Hoover and Robin Li, the secret location was a draw not only for its magnificent views but also for the pure nostalgia and novelty. "I used to go to drive-ins with my family when I was a kid," Hoover recalls, "and there's just not that many around anymore. It's interesting to me that this experience is so uniquely American – culture converging with cars."
Others cited that it's simply a good time that beats the humdrum of hanging out in a bar.
About a thousand film lovers receive the San Francisco film event announcements, and about 800 catch the word in Berkeley. (Los Angeles, MobMov's third-largest chapter, has about 750 e-mail recipients). Anyone is invited to sign up to attend future events at www.mobmov.org .
This article appeared on page E – 1 of the San Francisco Chronicle