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Outdoor cinemas in Hertfordshire

PUBLISHED: 11:56 25 June 2018 | UPDATED: 13:09 28 June 2018

Luna Cinema at Knebworth House

Luna Cinema at Knebworth House

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How a resurgence in cinema-going inspired a vision for films alfresco against stunning backdrops

I am relaxed in a camping chair, a glass of bubbles in my hand and a picnic at my feet. As Richard Gere sweeps Julia Roberts into his arms there is a huge cheer from the audience. It’s certainly not the sort of experience you get at the local multiplex. This was a screening of Pretty Woman in front of the gothic fantasy of Knebworth House last summer.

Outdoor cinema was once a feature of warmer climes – think 1950s drive-ins in the States – but since its introduction here in recent years, we have taken it to our hearts.

George Wood founded The Luna Cinema in 2008 literally by accident. A former Disney Club presenter and actor, he was knocked off his scooter on his way to the theatre and broke his leg. Out of action for six months, the 38-year-old decided to put into action an idea that had been growing since a trip to Australia – British outdoor cinema.

‘I said to my Australian mates, “Why don’t we do this in England, it’s such a great idea?” Of course, their reply was, “Because your weather’s rubbish mate”. Although we haven’t got a guaranteed hot summer each year, what we do have are incredible settings, places and great parks.’

From his hospital bed he called London’s Southwark Council about using Dulwich Park as a venue. His leg was in the air, he had never produced an open-air event, and had no idea how he was going to do it. The resulting event, showing the classic Some Like It Hot was a resounding success. Ten years on, this summer the company will screen 175 films around the UK.

George puts the success down to creating a special atmosphere.

‘The multiplex cinemas are quite bland places,’ he says. ‘The cinemas that seem to be thriving are more interesting – they have a good wine list or sofas. I feel that we have benefitted from that. People are bored of the multiplex experience and we were offering something suitably different.’

There may be planes flying overhead, birds chirping or the sudden threat of rain, but it enhances the experience. George says they often get foreign tourists saying only in England would it work.

‘It’s raining and people are watching a classic film they have seen 20 times,’ he says. ‘Maybe in other countries they would pack up and go home.’

He admits everything that could go wrong at screenings, has gone wrong – once a film in English began with a French overdub – but these days the operation is much slicker. He has never cancelled a screening, even in horrendous weather conditions. Perhaps that comes from his theatrical background – the show must go on.

The venue is a big part of the experience – Jaws was screened at Brockwell Lido, Brixton’s outdoor swimming pool, in May for example.

George says the biggest obstacle has surprisingly not been the weather, but that films could not be screened until dusk, making it difficult to cater for children and families. Now LED technology enables films to be shown in the daytime.

‘Being inclusive is a big part of the outdoor cinema offering’, George adds. ‘Our audiences join in and clap and cheer. It’s a shared experience, which makes for a fantastic communal atmosphere. We get big groups of friends or families in a whole age range enjoying the experience together – something that all too often is becoming a rarity.’

Where to see outdoor cinema in Herts this summer

LUNA CINEMA

Knebworth House

July 5: Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone

July 6: Bridesmaids

July 7: The Greatest Showman

Highfield Park, St Albans

July 5: The Greatest Showman

July 26: Legally Blonde

SUNDOWN CINEMA

Ashridge House, Little Gaddesden

July 20: Scream

August 3: Notting Hill

August 10: La La Land

BIG SCREEN

The Parade, Watford

Free screenings from July 6-21, including

July 6: La La Land

July 8: Forrest Gump

July 10: Casablanca

July 14: Inside Out

July 15: Wimbledon final

July 21: Despicable Me

July 21: The Greatest Showman

The Cricketers, Weston

July 24: Moana

Wimpole Hall, nr Royston

July 27: Brave (pre-sundown), Star Wars VIII – The Last Jedi

July 28: Moana (pre-sundown), Wonder Woman

July 29: Alice in Wonderland (pre-sundown), The Hunger Games

Hitchin Lavender, Ickleford

June 27: The Terminator

August 13: Moulin Rouge

August 14: The Greatest Showman

August 15: Raiders of the Lost Ark

August 16: Pretty Woman

August 17: Top Gun

August 18: Dirty Dancing

August 19: The Greatest Showman

Luton Hoo, nr Harpenden

August 25: Raiders of the Lost Ark

August 27: Grease

August 28: The Greatest Showman

August 31: Top Gun

September 1: Dirty Dancing

Putteridge Bury, nr Hitchin

August 7: Bugsy Malone, Paddington 2 (afternoon shows)

August 8: Ballerina, The Lego Batman Movie (afternoon shows)

August 13: Moana, Ratatouille (afternoon shows)

August 14: Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (afternoon show)

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