By Cameron Kittle
ESSEX — The outdoor, drive-in movie is back on Cape Ann — at least for a few weeks.
The new Cape Ann Community Cinema on Main Street in Gloucester has organized a weekly event to take advantage of the cool summer nights, with Woodman's Restaurant on Main Street in Essex serving as host.
The cinema will show three family-oriented films on consecutive Thursdays, starting tonight, in the Woodman's parking lot behind the restaurant, with the movies to be projected on a large inflatable screen that measures 15-by-20 feet.
The first showing will be tonight's "Madagascar 2: Escape to Africa," an animated, family film featuring the voices of Ben Stiller and Chris Rock about a crew of New York Zoo animals lost in the African wilderness.
Admission is free, and the movie will start sometime between 8 and 8:30 p.m., depending on when it is dark enough to provide a good background for the screen. Weather.com has projected tonight's sunset for 7:49 p.m. and temperatures should be in the mid-60s. There is some chance of rain showers at night, but it's only as high as 20 percent throughout the evening.
"It's good for the community and hopefully the weather will stay with us and make for kind of the old, drive-in type of atmosphere," said Ian Woodman, general manager at Woodman's Restaurant. "I'm going to be bringing my daughter out (tonight); she really likes that movie ('Madagascar 2')."
Woodman said the parking lot fits about 100 cars comfortably, but he said he expects some people will bring chairs and enjoy the movie outside of their cars as well.
"This is a great opportunity to give Cape Ann movie fans a unique experience," said Woodman's co-CEO Steve Woodman, "though we don't expect fried clams to replace popcorn as the all-time favorite movie snack."
No refreshments will be sold, but Ian Woodman said he assumes families will bring coolers and snacks for themselves. He said he hopes the audience will avoid bringing any alcohol, but there will not be a police detail to enforce conduct in any way. Woodman said the nightly police patrol that happens regularly should keep audience members from drinking in public.
After tonight's showing of "Madagascar 2: Escape to Africa," there will be two additional showings of classic, family films to cap the month of August.
"Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory," the 1971 movie based on Roald Dahl's book and starring Gene Wilder as Willy Wonka, will be shown at the same time next week on Aug. 20. "The Goonies," the 1985 kids adventure film starring Sean Astin of "Lord of the Rings" and "Rudy" fame, will be shown on Aug. 27.
"These shows are a little more labor-intensive than my usual sitting-on-a-couch-in-the-back-of-the-theater regimen," Robert Newton, managing director at the Cape Ann Community Cinema, said in a prepared statement. "But it is so worth it to be able to share such a fun and memorable time with people," Newton was unavailable for additional comment yesterday.
Ian Woodman was optimistic that if these three showings bring out big crowds, the restaurant and local theater could team up again for similar opportunities down the line.
"If we get a good showing, I don't see any reason why we wouldn't do it again or more times in the future," he said.