Movie Magic

O utdoor movie showings have “a different magic,” says Francesca Vignola, director of marketing and events for Town Green District. “I liked going to them [even] before I was responsible for putting them on.”

Vignola manages Movies in the Plaza, the weekly open-air screening series held downtown in Pitkin Plaza, where, on October 27, this year’s seven-month run will come to a close. Compared to watching a movie inside a conventional theater, it feels “a little freer,” she says. It’s also just free, thanks to a sponsorship from Trinity Bar and Restaurant, whose plaza-side patio offers table service with a view of the screen. Snack sponsor Elm City Market, meanwhile, provides complimentary refreshments—maybe Pirate’s Booty, or Clif Bars, or beef jerky, or LaCroix—at the sign-in table.

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The Community Foundation for Greater New Haven

That table is likely where you’ll find Vignola during a screening, working the sound and enjoying the show. She chooses films primarily for their capacity to entertain general audiences, in part by making “the genres range quite a bit” and by incorporating “kids’ movies that I also think adults would enjoy.” But she hasn’t shied away from more adult-focused movies either. Selections this year—from Home Alone to The Birdcage to Arrival to Mad Max: Fury Road—prove that both breadth and depth are possible even while filling the plaza’s freshly sanitized seats.

“I don’t need it to be like an indie film festival,” Vignola says, hoping to avoid films that are too narrow or extreme, and yet, like a film fest juror, she’s already on the hunt for next year’s movies. She’s been tracking turnout this season to gain insight into attendees’ interests (and to help plan future snack counts). She’s also been asking attendees who sign in to divulge their favorite films, which she’ll compile and scour for emergent titles, styles or genres.

When asked to name her own favorite movie, Vignola thinks for a while, then bends the question in favor of two blockbuster franchises: Pirates of the Caribbean and Harry Potter. Picking a favorite Halloween-season movie yields quicker answers: Edward Scissorhands (“though it’s a little Christmassy”) or Hocus Pocus, which is actually on deck for the 2021 series finale on October 27. In fact, all four of this month’s films, including Corpse Bride next week and Zombieland after that, conjure up Halloween spirit.

Last night’s opening October salvo, Alien, is the scariest of the four. Released in 1979, the seminal sci fi/space horror film was, in a way, the anti-Star Wars, which had come out exactly two years before. Instead of a faraway galaxy balanced by a benign mystical force and swashbuckling rebels, Alien’s outer space is grim and indifferent, and it’s our own. Last night, as it did for audiences in 1979, the film slithered and coiled around its claustrophobic spaceship setting before striking with speed and ferocity.

At the iconic early moment when the “facehugger” suddenly whips out of its egg and latches onto John Hurt’s face, a flinch passed through the Pitkin Plaza crowd even though most of them must have known exactly what was coming. A few seconds later, one of the flinchers, sitting with a friend at the table in front of me, shivered in horror at what her eyes had just registered before sheepishly laughing it off. “It’s just a movie,” she may have told herself, as that movie continued to cast its spell.

Movies in the Plaza
Pitkin Plaza, New Haven (map)
Wed 8pm through 10/27 (subject to change due to weather)

Written by Dan Mims. Image features a still from Alien (1979).

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Dan has worked for a couple of major media companies, but he likes Daily Nutmeg best. As DN’s editor, he writes, photographs, edits and otherwise shepherds ideas into fully realized feature stories.

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