Thursday means movies at park

On Thursday nights, the field at Pope John Paul II Park transforms from a sports venue to a movie destination. It's a night where people ditch the TV and watch movies unde the stars, catch the breeze from the Neponset River, load up on bug spray, and munch on popcorn.

For children like Alia Thompson, 10, it's a night that she can do something more grown- up.

 "I get to stay up later," Thompson said, adding that on other nights her bedtime is 8:30 p.m.

Thompson sits in a beach chair next to her twin sister and parents, waiting for the movie "Evan Almighty" to begin. Her mother, De Thompson, said that they've been coming to the summer series for a couple of years.

"It's fun. It's for the family, being outside, and meeting other people from the community," said Thompson.

Last Thursday was a long shot. Threatening clouds that loomed overhead right before sundown kept the movie night in limbo. A crowd gathered on the field of the park and special event workers from the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation began to set up the projector and screen despite the ominous clouds. Candice Cook, program manager of the Boston Natural Areas Network, the organization that helps run the movie series, sets up her table with an eye to the weather.

"Will it blow over or will it be sopping wet?" she asked as she looked at the sky. According to DCR special events worker Howard Resnick, the movie typically plays as planned as long as it is relatively dry. If it rains for an extended time, they have to pack up the equipment since it will not withstand rain.

"If its thunder or lightning, we won't take chances," he said. "Public safety is number one."

After a sprinkle thinned the crowd to around 40, the DCR crew started the show and the rest of the night went as planned.

The nine-week flick festival, part of a larger Neponset Ruver Greenway Festival now in its 14th year, is sponsored by the DCR, BNAN, Neponset River Greenway Council, and this newspaper. Funding for the movie event in particular comes from WBZ News Radio 1030, according to Wendy Fox, DCR's spokesperson.

The larger festival includes other free events such as canoe sessions down the Neponset River, a beach day, and a night of stargazing.

BNAN's vice president Vidya Tikku said the movie night is a good way to get people outdoors.

"The goal is just to get the family out," said Tikku. She said her organization also strives to instill a sense of stewardship in those who come out to enjoy the park events and encourage them to get involved with Neponset River Greenway Council. "We also use these movies to help explain other greenway events," she said.

The portion of the park where the film are shown has a motion picture history. The old Neponset Drive-in - which screened films from the 1950s through the 1970s - was once a popular destination for neighborhood residents. Carloads came a generation ago to enjoy low-cost movies, a feeling that echoes in today's version.

"It recognizes the fact that there were movies in there," said Tikku. "There's a whole audience in Dorchester that can walk from their homes or bike down the trails," she added.

Barbara Baxter, an active member of the greenway council who fondly remembers going to the drive-in as a child, said the park "is a good place for families to go and also get outside and not in front of the boob tube or the computer."

"It's just a really nice, low-key event outside in their own neighborhood," Cook said.

According to Cook, the nights typically draw anywhere from 75 to 200 people, and depending on things like the weather forecast. The movies are the same ones played at four other sites in Massachusetts, including the Hatch Memorial Shell along the Charles River in Boston.

For one family, Thursday night means family movie series night. Susan Fenton, who sat with her husband Bill, friend Michele Cooper and Cooper's two kids Jon and Caitlin said, "Thursday nights--you're going to be here" She added, "We love it. We see the same people every week, we get to be outdoors."

For more information on the family movie series, see bostonnatural.org. The final Thursday night film screening at Pope John Paul II Park is scheduled for Aug. 28.