Screen on the Green, the Outdoor Cinema Series on the Mall, Will Return July 20

New sponsorship will bring Screen on the Green back for four weeks this summer, starting July 20.
New sponsorship will bring Screen on the Green back for four weeks this summer, starting July 20. (By Tyler Mallory)
By Dan Zak
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, June 11, 2009

Great news for local mosquitoes! Screen on the Green will return this summer after all, thanks to some Washingtonians who leapt into action when HBO announced last month that it would not continue its sponsorship of the free outdoor cinema series. HBO, Comcast and the Trust for the National Mall will now jointly bankroll the series' 10th year on the Mall this July and August, after fans sent hundreds of e-mails to complain and beg for its salvation.

"There was an outpouring of people concerned that this wasn't happening," Quentin Schaffer, HBO's executive vice president for corporate communications, said by phone from New York. "When you start something like this, at some point it becomes a tradition. And unless you take something away, you have no idea how people count on it."

The series, which attracts thousands of people to the Mall every summer, will begin July 20 with Steven Spielberg's "Close Encounters of the Third Kind" and continue on Mondays at dusk until Aug. 10 -- one week shy of its usual five-week run, a compromise resulting from the last-minute nature of the arrangements. The rest of the lineup has not been confirmed, though it may include movies that are already slotted for Screen on the Green's New York counterpart, held in Bryant Park, such as "Dog Day Afternoon" or "Rebel Without a Cause," according to HBO.

Within hours of the initial announcement last month, Jesse Rauch, a staff member for the D.C. Council by day, helped consolidate the city's hurt and determination onto a Facebook page whose membership has grown to 2,500. Rauch and other volunteers corralled the e-mail addresses for major regional companies (including Comcast) and asked people to blast them with a pre-written message that described the importance of Screen on the Green in Washington ("It's where memories made," where "magic happens") and stressed the PR opportunity waiting to happen ("If you decide to be our sponsor or co-sponsor, it's your name we'll all see on that big screen, and you will be credited as 'saving' Screen on the Green").

"I'm exuberant," says Rauch, 27, who lives on Capitol Hill. "This is exciting. This is amazing. This is exactly what we wanted. We knew that a good grass-roots movement would let people know how crucial Screen on the Green was to the D.C. experience."

HBO needed a co-sponsor to make the event happen, and Comcast and the Trust for the National Mall, a nonprofit partner of the National Park Service, approached HBO last month to talk about participating. The series costs hundreds of thousands of dollars to put on each summer, and the three entities will share the burden.

"There was such an overwhelming outcry from the public to keep Screen on the Green going," said Comcast Executive Vice President David L. Cohen in a press release. "We listened, and are excited to help make the event happen this year."

"This event will allow us to reach out directly to tens of thousands of viewers about their role in protecting 'America's Front Yard,' " said Trust for the National Mall Chairman Chip Akridge in the same release. "Each film will be preceded by the broadcast of a Trust for the National Mall public service announcement."

On Rauch's "Save Screen on the Green" Facebook page, Capitol Hill resident Steve Pearcy posted a laundry list of memories from the series' run, including that time when a guy came dressed in a gorilla costume and holding a Barbie doll for "King Kong," when the crowd sang along with Judy Garland to "Somewhere Over the Rainbow," when people started to adopt and perfect the "HBO dance" -- a hopping, flailing jig that accompanies the symphonic music of the vintage HBO feature-presentation sequence before the movie.

"It's always been one of the little rituals, where you go with a groups of friends, and you run into other friends you haven't seen all year," says Pearcy, 47, who's attended the series since its inception in the District. "It's a reunion sort of thing."

Expect July 20 to be a major reunion for a tradition that never had a chance to disappear. And expect a lot of hopping and flailing for joy as soon as the HBO music starts.

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