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“In the past, if we had a French exhibition, we’d show French films,” says Golda Akhgarnia, public relations coordinator for the San Diego Museum of Art. “This year we’re celebrating a ‘summer of women’ theme at the museum, so we selected five films that have female leads.”

The museum is featuring two exhibits — Georgia O’Keefe and the Women of the Stieglitz Circle and Eleanor Antin: Historical Takes. Each Thursday during the summer (beginning July 31 and ending August 28) the museum will host its free summer-movie program called “Screen on the Green.”

“A lot of people will arrive early, two or three hours before the film starts, to get a good spot,” says Akhgarnia. “They set up blankets, some bring low-backed chairs, and have picnics or full-on meals. One year a woman had pizza delivered. Some will bring games — like Apples to Apples or Frisbee — to play while they’re waiting for the film to start.”

Dogs, which are allowed in the park, are often found beside their owners at screenings. In accordance with city regulations, no smoking is allowed in Balboa Park at any time, nor are glass containers. Alcohol is permitted only until 8 p.m., the time the movies are scheduled to begin.

“Last summer I met people who put their younger children and babies into pajamas because they always fall asleep before the end of the movie,” says Vas Prabhu, the museum’s deputy director for education and interpretation. “When I met them, they were leaving with these kids on their shoulders, going home to bed.” The average attendance is 1000. “You may get a little chatter,” says Akhgarnia of the crowd, “but for the most part it’s like being in a theater. Everyone’s really respectful.”

The movies are projected onto an inflatable screen temporarily erected on the lawn near the Botanical Building, just east of the museum. In the past, the movies were shown on the east wall of the museum itself, but a Mexican fan palm tree has grown over the area. Prabhu explains that the museum consulted with tree experts and decided to move the screen rather than trim the palm.

This season’s show was curated by KPBS film reviewer and “San Diego’s self-appointed movie maven” Scott Marks.

“It’s not only outdoor screenings, but also the age of the audience I have to consider,” says Marks. “The Parent Trap is a film beyond criticism. Hayley Mills was my first big crush. It’s infinitely better than the crappy remake. I picked Shop around the Corner because I think You’ve Got Mail is garbage. If you like the Velveeta, you’re going to love the real cheese.”

Some movies do not lend themselves to outdoor viewing. “Lawrence of Arabia is a great coffee-table movie, but to show that film letterboxed on [an inflatable] screen with a thousand people would not do it justice,” says Marks. “A big, long epic where you’re sitting on a blanket for three or four hours would just not work.”

Before each film, Marks plays a vintage cartoon, like a Looney Tunes feature or Popeye. “That way we can start it a little early. No one feels guilty if the sun is up and we show a cartoon, but you really can’t start the film before 8 o’clock — the sun has to be down.”

Sabrina plays on August 7. “I would not do anything related with women and old films and not show an Audrey Hepburn film,” says Marks. “She is everything in cinema. She’s perfect. Angelina Jolie should sit and take notice.”

— Barbarella

Screen on the Green: Summer Movies at Balboa Park
Thursday, July 31 (every Thursday through August 28)
8 p.m.
East Lawn, near the Botanical Building and Casa del Prado
Balboa Park
Cost: Free
Info: 619-232-7931 or sdmart.org/calendar-screen-on-the-green

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