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San Antonio Current: Concrete Cinema

Xelena Gonzales

Jul 15, 2004

'In the Public Domain' shows free summer movies near La Tuna icehouse.

Movie-going will always be a favorite American pastime, but one that too often involves long lines, bad food, and exorbitant prices. Specialty theaters such as the Bijou are springing up to offer full menus, alcohol, foreign films, and even art exhibits. Alamo Drafthouse, popular in Austin and Houston, is scheduled to open its first venue in San Antonio late this summer, which is good news, save for the theater's location on the traffic-plagued far West Side. For those who prefer to stay inside the Loop, there is another alternative - a free one at that.

For the summer months, Southtown icehouse La Tuna has teamed up with indie video store Planet of the Tapes to feature a series of outdoor screenings called "In the Public Domain." The event is coined after the legal label assigned to works of art that are not protected by copyrights and can therefore be freely used by the public. There are more than 5,000 movies that were never registered with the U.S. Copyright Office or whose copyright has expired, and according to Planet co-owner Angela Martinez, they're all up for grabs.

"Most are just cheesy '60s and '70s movies. We're looking for the humor and the camp value of it," says Martinez. "We first showed Bucket of Blood, which had all these old commercials at the beginning, and people really liked them. We came to find out they love the crazy, campy, ridiculousness of it all."

Another important aspect of the screenings is a family-friendly atmosphere, adds Martinez, who lugs her 2-year-old along with a movie screen and sound system to each event. She and her husband noticed a lack of local events that are entertaining for both kids and adults, so they collaborated with nearby business owners and fellow "movie junkies" to offer the city something different.

"The idea was to bring family and kids together for a casual event, no big shakes," said La Tuna co-owner Michael Berrier. "It's just fun sitting out under the sky, feeling the breeze coming off the river, and watching the film."

The scene is indeed pleasant. At a recent screening, couples and singles gathered on the concrete slab (called the Slab, for easy identification) across the street from La Tuna, lawn chairs and cold beers in hand, as dusk fell and a full moon rose over the Blue Star silos. A preview of cartoons played for the roaming youngsters, who finally settled on picnic blankets for a showing of The Last Woman on Earth. Although "In the Public Domain" has received mostly word-of-mouth advertisement and suffered recent delays and cancellations because of rain, the event has had a solid showing of 20-30 viewers, mostly residents from the surrounding Lavaca and King William neighborhoods.

Aside from drink and small concession sales, event organizers gain no profit from the screenings, but hope to keep them alive as long as there's public interest and fair weather. Martinez says she does the footwork "for the fun of it and for the love of movies.

"I just want to enjoy the neighborhood and promote community," she says. "It introduces audiences to a whole new genre of movies they might not have been exposed to. Sometimes these old movies are so bad they're good."

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