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Friday Night: Free flicks

Phoenix Film Festival movies attract a comfortable crowd in a great venue

 by Tara Brite  published on Thursday, March 24, 2005

Gina Aroneo, a high school English teacher in north Phoenix, walks to a Phoenix Film Festival screening in downtown Phoenix. The screenings are free every Friday night and are possibly the best-kept secret in the Valley. /issues/arts/692522
Amanda L. Myers / STATE PRESS MAGAZINE
Gina Aroneo, a high school English teacher in north Phoenix, walks to a Phoenix Film Festival screening in downtown Phoenix. The screenings are free every Friday night and are possibly the best-kept secret in the Valley.
 

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In the heart of downtown Phoenix, dozens of people unfold lawn chairs and stake out their territory behind a tucked-away brick building.

From here, you can see Bank One Ballpark, America West Arena and pretty much all the major buildings of downtown. But most of the people in those buildings have no clue where to find this area.

That's the whole idea.

This is where the people with the Phoenix Film Festival show films for free every Friday night as part of the Copper Square Film Series, possibly the best-kept secret in the Valley.

The movies attract dozens of people from all walks of life and are projected on a large screen in front of a seed-and-feed building just south of Jefferson Street between Second and Third streets.

The experience begins at 7 p.m. as live music fills the chilled night air. Tonight's band is Fatigo, a type of Spanish rock band that inspires the moviegoers to salsa dance before the film starts.

ASU anthropology senior Diane Elsheikh is the volunteer coordinator for this year's festival, which runs solely on the help of volunteers.

Tonight, she wears blue jeans and a black sweatshirt. As she scans the crowd, she pauses for a moment. She spots a couple of confused-looking first-timers. As she walks over to explain more about the festival, her short brown hair bobs with each step.

"I feel like working for the festival is kind of like being behind the scenes," she says. "It's making people happy."

Elsheikh says the films that are shown at the Copper Square Film Series are all winners from previous festivals.

Tony Wegener, who runs the production company Allegra Productions, says he has volunteered for the Copper Square series since it started last June.

He says the event is fairly popular despite varying weather conditions throughout the year.

"One time it rained and people still came," he says, pointing to the large awning that covers the crowd.

After an hour of pre-show entertainment, tonight's film, "Chump Change," shoots through the darkness and appears on the 10 1/2-by-14-foot screen.

Though Fatigo continues to play the last few songs in its set, the crowd, which has grown exponentially since the start of the show, settles down a bit as stragglers head for the lawn chairs.

Sharris Middleton, a manager of software development, is laying in the bed of a pickup truck facing the screen. She and her friend are wrapped head to toe in blankets, resembling a human taquito.

Middleton, who has been to the Copper Square showings twice before, says she enjoys the event because it is a good opportunity to sign up for free mainstream films. She says being an "insider" with the Phoenix Film Festival has allowed her to get passes to movies such as "I, Robot" and the upcoming "Duma" for free. She adds that both of the films she has seen at the Copper Square series, though independent, were great.

"I like to watch movies, and it's free," she says.

Richard Simon, 26, a loan officer, and Kim Drogowski, a children's counselor and ASU graduate student in social work, watch the movie from a blanket in front of the lawn chairs. The two share a pepperoni pizza from Domino's.

This is their first trip to the Copper Square series.

"I think its cool," Drogowski says, as she wipes her lips with a napkin.

Simon nods his head in agreement, saying, "It's something different. I like it."

Reach the reporter at tara.brite@asu.edu.



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