In the summer, outdoor cinema abounds in the East Bay. And while many neighborhood movie nights follow a similar formula — movies projected on a wall, viewers huddled on chairs or lawns, and, ideally, a multitude of snacks on hand — North Oakland’s Temescal Street Cinema is unique in that rather than showing blockbusters, it favors an eclectic mix of shorts and movies made by local artists and filmmakers.
Since its inception in 2008, the free outdoor cinema series has attracted crowds surpassing two hundred on a blocked-off stretch of 49th Street at Telegraph Avenue, with films screened on the side of a Bank of the West building on six Thursday evenings throughout June and July. Attendees chomp on free popcorn, listen to live music (also local), and take in a selection of experimental shorts selected by the nearby Royal NoneSuch Gallery, along with quirky, primarily narrative-driven documentaries (2010’s series included a film about a national grocery-bagging competition and this year’s a movie about beards). The result is a block-party atmosphere.
And while much of the event’s success is owed to the efforts of hardworking organizers — from co-founders Suzanne L’Heureux and Catarina Negrin (who’s since left the project) to local gallery owners and artists — part of Street Cinema’s survival has relied, since its inception, on full funding from the Temescal Telegraph Business Improvement District, which has financed everything from the popcorn machine and projection equipment to partial wages for organizers and even small stipends for filmmakers and musicians. “They’ve supported us outright for years,” L’Heureux said, “and it’s because of that that we’ve been able to get as established as we are.”
But earlier this year L’Heureux learned that the money she’d anticipated to bankroll the project, about $4,500 annually, is being rerouted (along with other funds from the improvement district’s reserves) toward a costly pedestrian-oriented lighting project that will extend along Telegraph Avenue from 40th Street to the Berkeley border. For L’Heureux, that left the future of Temescal Street Cinema in doubt. In September, she applied for but was denied an arts grant that would’ve covered the cinema’s operating costs. So she turned to the online fundraising website Kickstarter, where for the first time she’s seeking public support for what’s become something of a Temescal institution. The goal: $3,500 in sixty days, which must be met in full by December 21 in order for organizers to receive any of the funds.
As of December 12, $3,040 of that goal had been reached, though L’Heureux said she set the fundraising target below the cinema’s ideal operating costs to avoid losing funding altogether. Luckily, the improvement district announced last week that it will contribute up to another $1,000 to help fill in the gaps, because, as executive director Darlene Rios Drapkin put it, “The Temescal Street Cinema is a keeper for us as far as supporting it in any way possible.” And while it most likely won’t be curtains for the upcoming season, going forward the series still lacks a secure source of funding to ensure its long-term survival. “Every year we’re going to be in this boat,” L’Heureux said. “I don’t know what it’s going to look like in the future, but I feel really confident that we’re going to continue to make this work.” To donate, visit TemescalStreetCinema.com.