June 04, 2020
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Free outdoor film series opens in Portland’s Congress Square

PORTLAND, Maine — Can’t make it to a drive-in? Too nice out to slink into a darkened theater? Good news, reel buffs: A new summer film series opens in Portland this weekend, bringing classic films to a classic space.

Hollywood chestnuts, such as “Casablanca” and “North by Northwest,” will be shown on the big screen in Congress Square Park on Sundays starting June 7. On alternating weeks, short films from local filmmakers screen in tandem.

Sponsored by MENSK, a Portland-based organization that assists creative nonprofit endeavors in Maine, Portland Summer Films is designed for wide appeal. The baker’s dozen includes “American Graffiti,” “To Kill a Mockingbird,” as well as “The Muppet Movie.” Families and those looking for a low-key, free night on the town, this is for you.

“I think a lot of 20-somethings have missed a lot of these classics,” Michael Henderson, the series executive director, said. “This is a chance to expose people to some films they may not have seen that should be in everyone’s purview.”

Portland Summer Films formerly was the itinerant Rooftop Films, an underground film festival that brought “Jaws” to the Eastern Prom last year. The fest popped up on garage rooftops across the city. Having a dedicated, central space and new screen — compliments of Southwest Airlines — makes the incarnation more enduring. The Friends of Congress Square Park helped secure the grant for the projector and are co-sponsoring the series, part of 100 free public events in the park through the fall.

“Keeping it free is the mission,” said Henderson, who also is a MENSK board member and worked in the film and TV industry in New York. “Free public programing and support of local film and use of public space is what we are about.”

The location hardly is trivial. Just a year ago this public park was in jeopardy. Owners of the adjacent Westin Portland Harborview Hotel wanted to expand and yank a portion of the plaza from city-goers. The attempt created a sea of outrage. After a heated campaign, the park was saved by residents in a citywide vote.

Now that the space is part of the commons again, this film series could be an important bellwether, as well as “a nice way to wrap up the weekend,” Henderson said.

Portland Summer Films runs Sundays from June to August starting around 8 p.m., depending on sunset. For more info visit portlandsummerfilms.com. Bring your own lawn chairs and blankets. For refreshments, a food truck will be on site.

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