We’re in the middle of summer and that means many discounted or even free movie opportunities for families! Earlier this year we brought you our annual list of Free and Cheap Summer Movies in our immediate area, a guide that includes both indoor and outdoor movies.
One of the most popular choices is Starlight Cinemas, a fun family tradition in Fairfax County. Each year the county’s Sully District supervisor (Michael Frey), supporters, and corporate sponsors present this outdoor series on Saturday nights at Trinity Centre in Centreville, VA. Whether you make it a “drive-in” movie or a picnic-style event, you can enjoy great fun for FREE.
The event begins at 6 pm with an outdoor pre-movie program of music, food, and children’s activities such as moon bounces. Then around dusk (usually at 7:30 or 8 pm) the fun continues with a family-friendly film (rated PG). The series kicks off this Saturday, August 2, with a classic, “Casablanca.” The other films this year are: Despicable Me 2, Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs 2, Frozen, and The Lego Movie (lucky us, with five weekends in August!).
So what can you expect at the event? We’ve been attending for a few years and can offer some good tips:
- Best age for this activity: These are family-friendly events, so they’re open to all ages. However, keep in mind that due to the film ratings (rated PG) and time of the event (you won’t get out until at least 9:30 or 10 pm) it’s probably not good for very young kids. You, of course, know your kids best; I’d say ages 6 and up is best. Planners note that “movies selected are chosen to appeal to the whole community; films that parents can bring their children to, but adults can also enjoy.” The event is in a parking lot (hard surface) so keep this in mind if your little ones like to run around a lot.
- Pre-movie activities: All activities are free, including before the show. There is usually a live music act, moon bounces, and other fun for kids such as physical activities, balloons, and face-painting.
- Where to park: Trinity Centre (5860 trinity parkway, Centreville, VA 20120) is a large corporate complex, and this event is in one of the parking lots; there is plenty of parking on-site and across the street (all free), and police and staff will direct you to the right spots. If you want to watch the movies from your car, come early, since late arrivals may not be able to park in the “drive-in” spots.
- Where to sit: The idea of a drive-in is fun, but honestly, in August it can get pretty hot, even at night, and you can’t run your engine to have A/C. Most people, I think, end up sitting in the open air. Keep in mind that you will be sitting on a parking lot, so chairs or blankets are a must (this is not “lawn seating” — there isn’t much of a lawn!). The area toward the front is reserved for those sitting on blankets; chairs are in the back, then cars. The movie is usually displayed on two giant portable outdoor screens.
- Food – bring or buy: You can certainly pack a picnic, but if you don’t feel like lugging around more stuff, you usually have at least a couple of choices for dinner (such as Paisano’s, Bella Pizza, McDonald’s, or Chick-fil-A) and snacks (popcorn, ice cream, etc.). You can bring a cooler and picnic baskets; no alcoholic drinks are allowed.
- What to bring: Food or money for snacks, bottled water, bug repellent wipes (just in case), folding/camp chairs, blankets to sit on (double up or bring yoga mats to use as pads… the ground is hard!), and maybe a light jacket or extra blanket for those cool nights. You also can bring an FM radio to tune in to the right channel (they’ll announce the broadcast band) if you want to hear the movie better.
- Restrooms: There are portable toilets on-site.
- Courtesies: Please be mindful of those around you, especially those seated behind you who may not be able to see if your group has high-back chairs or balloons. Remember everyone is watching at the same level and doesn’t have the usual inclined seating you get at a theatre.
- Weather woes: As noted on the official event site, “for last minute performance cancellations due to inclement weather, call 703-324-SHOW (7469) one hour prior to the program start time.” From my experience, they’re usually good about “making the call” early on to give you plenty of time to plan whether to go or not.