watching “night of the hunter” in ypsilanti’s riverside park

In a post last night, I mentioned in passing that I’d had this notion, for quite a while now, that it would be fun to hang a sheet up between two trees in Riverside Park and project the Robert Mitchum film “Night of the Hunter” on it. The idea of watching it with a bunch of people laying on the grass and listening to the crickets chirping really makes me happy. Anyway, I posted the general idea, and I guess it must have resonated with people. A bunch of people offered to help. Someone offered to bring a projector from work. Someone else said that they could handle the sound. Some other folks offered screens… As I see it, there are just two outstanding issues: power and the law. We need to find a way to make the projector and sound system run, and we need to make sure that no one gets hauled off to jail in the process.

Concerning power, a few people mentioned car batteries, which seems plausible. Someone else sent me an email suggesting that we just run power from one of the homes on Huron. Another suggested that it might not be too difficult to get an outlet that already exists in the park turned on. My favorite idea, however, was that we have some people peddling bikes to generate the juice, like on “Gilligan’s Island.” If we could swing something like that, I think we might even get the national press here in Ypsi (writing about something other than murder for a change). Failing that, I’m thinking that perhaps our resident solar guru Dave Strenski might be able to help us out… I can’t think of a better demonstration of solar power than that — we take panels out during the day, leave them in the sun, and then come back later that evening to watch the movie. Pretty impressive, right? And I bet we could get a few more people to sign the Ypsi Solar Pledge that way too.

The legal issues, I think, might be a bit more difficult. As I’m estimating we’d have fewer than 50 people, I don’t think a special permit or porta-johns would be required. We also won’t be charging admission or serving alcohol. However, I do think that we might get into trouble over time. As I recall, the park has a 10:00 PM curfew, and, since it probably wouldn’t be dark enough for us to start the film until after 9:30 or so, there’s no way we could be out by 10:00. I suppose it’s possible to have that waived though… Since a lot of you seem interested, I’ll look into it.

What do you say, Mr. Mayor? If it means keeping one of our policemen an hour late on a Friday night, I bet we could take up a collection so that it wouldn’t cost the city a dime.

[I suppose, if the park is out, there might be other options available, but I really like the idea of watching this particular movie in the park, right on the edge of the river. It just wouldn’t be the same in a parking lot.]

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  1. jt
    Posted July 18, 2007 at 11:08 pm | Permalink

    Doesn’t the park have outlets at base of many sad looking trees? Strange evolutionary adaptation, but one that selects for species in this very specialized niche.

  2. john g
    Posted July 19, 2007 at 9:07 am | Permalink

    I believe the statement that power has to be turned on for the arboreal outlets to supply the voltage is essentially correct. Secondly, I would think that a special event permit would provide the mechanism for park access after hours, albeit necessary to get some waiver on the prohibition on new events.

    Sorry that these steps dilute the essential guerrilla drive-in spontaneity of your original thought.

  3. Tark
    Posted July 19, 2007 at 10:48 am | Permalink

    How about having it at the homeless encampment? It’s right on the river, open all night, and the cops never go there.

  4. Spittle
    Posted July 19, 2007 at 12:24 pm | Permalink

    Lots of poison Ivy there.

    But maybe on the concrete wall of the Farm Bureau Tower.

  5. brian r
    Posted July 19, 2007 at 1:55 pm | Permalink

    The downtown library branch already has a Thursday night movie night where they show movies against Bombadils.

    Perhaps you could work with an existing event to make it even more popular.

  6. Posted July 19, 2007 at 2:28 pm | Permalink

    Parks belong to the people. I would suggest just doing it.

  7. leaning
    Posted July 19, 2007 at 3:52 pm | Permalink

    we would DEFINITELY come to see Night of the Hunter, just about anywhere…
    I’d even make our kids pedal bikes to generate the projector.
    before i forget, good job on Shadow Art Fair!

  8. egpenet
    Posted July 19, 2007 at 6:43 pm | Permalink

    Bringing our own cameras to the parks would be more fun … just recording what goes on all night … in the parks … on the streets … especially on Pearl behind the Business School … and just East of Prospect on Michigan Avenue … simply loads of entertainment!

  9. Ol' E Cross
    Posted July 19, 2007 at 9:41 pm | Permalink

    Cities are in the unfortunate legal position of having to be fair and non-discriminatory, i.e., if we allow A to do B in location C, then D must also be allowed to do E in C.

    The sidewalks and streets also belong to the people. Let’s see, whose house can we do X in front of all night?

    Don’t get me wrong, the idea of watching Night of the Hunter across a moonlit river is enchanting, but if this thing happens, I will be there screaming “haaageeellloooo” in front of the screen at the top of my lungs in protest of the notion that what some want to do on public property should be immune to police interference, but when others want to motorcross in the park ’til sun-up, it should be piped-down.

    Public property belongs to the entire public, not just those with my aesthetic. Get a permit, and I’ll be there smiling widely.

    Permits aren’t very guerilla, but they are (or should be) egalitarian. I know, if everyone’s equal, nobody’s cool. It sucks.

    (Mark, thanks for giving me a post I can play the curmudgeon on, I’ve been missing my role.)

  10. paulg
    Posted July 20, 2007 at 2:48 am | Permalink

    I’ve thought about trying to build a bike generator. You could just replace the rear wheel of an old bike with a motor, add an energy storage/AC inverter box, and presto, you’d have free power (and get good exercise too).

    When I learned how much power can be generated by a human body though, I got discouraged. For instance, a super-fit, Tour de France-caliber bicyclist can sustain about 400 watts over several hours. But even that would barely be enough to run the portable theater.

    The main problem is the projector, with its super-bright lightbulb. A quick google search reveals the average projector consumes about 250 watts. Add a sound system and factor in generator inefficiences, and you’d probably need Lance Armstrong to power this thing. And he’d be pretty tired by the end of the film.

    For the average “fit” adult, you could count on around 150 to 200 watts being available (after inefficiences, maybe 100 watts). So you could power the theater with three or four such riders, or maybe 6-7 kids. The effort would be similar to riding a real bike (with wind resistance) at about 20mph for a few hours.

    Using the human body as a reference point gives me a good feel for how much power is actually consumed by all the everyday devices we take for granted.

  11. jill
    Posted July 20, 2007 at 10:44 am | Permalink

    There was a mention in the A2 News yesterday that Saline is doing this sort of thing in Mill Pond Park (this weekend, I believe).

  12. Posted July 20, 2007 at 11:03 pm | Permalink

    I gotta admit, I really like this idea.

  13. Ol' E Cross
    Posted July 20, 2007 at 11:48 pm | Permalink

    Sorry. I think I was a little pissy last night. This was one of the worst work week’s I’ve had. Last night, I was considering driving my car into a tree to have an excuse to miss what happened today at work. I didn’t. I survived. But, it was miserable. Maybe no one noticed, but if there was more piss in the vinegar, I apologize. I guess personal mental fluctuations is a hazard of co-habitating on this blog.

  14. mark
    Posted July 21, 2007 at 9:32 am | Permalink

    A note from Police Chief Harshberger to an interested third party (reprinted with permission):

    …As for the movie in the park, there are a few issues that we will need to get worked out – all of them are relatively easy, however. If they’re talking about a one-time thing, I think we can accommodate them via an application for a park reservation, which can be obtained from the city website.

    First, they have to keep the attendance below fifty people.

    Second, keep the attendance “private” – not open to the public – by private invitation only.

    Third, have specific volunteers who act as “security”, so if something happens or someone causes a problem necessitating YPD response, there is someone assigned to call us.

    Fourth, file a noise permit application for the movie (I’m not sure if this is part of the park reservation fee or not)

    Fifth, include a time that they will be out of the park, as we will need to grant special permission for them to remain in the park after closing (10pm)

    Sixth, what about a porta-john?

    Seventh, no alcoholic beverages.

    I think that’s about it. It can be done and relatively easily, if they’re willing to abide by the above conditions.

    So, it looks like we can do it. We just need to keep it private and invite fewer than 50 people. I’m unclear as to what would happen if other folks, who just happened to be walking by, sat down to watch though. Would our volunteer security force have to ask them to leave? What if they weren’t sitting in our area? I could see that getting complicated… Anyway, it looks like it’s doable.

    And thanks the bike power analysis, Paul. That’s really cool… And thank you also for the apology, Ol E C… Too bad we can’t power the whole thing on pis and vinegar.

  15. Ol' E Cross
    Posted July 22, 2007 at 10:56 pm | Permalink

    Fortunately, you can power the required security force on piss and vinegar, for which I volunteer.

  16. mark
    Posted July 22, 2007 at 11:00 pm | Permalink

    Next Shadow Art Fair, I’m deffinitely going to bottle my own piss and vinegar.

  17. Posted July 25, 2007 at 12:32 pm | Permalink

    You could wait until September when it gets dark earlier.

  18. mark
    Posted July 26, 2007 at 10:21 pm | Permalink

    I wrote to Dave Strenski, our local solar guru, to see if it might be possible to run something like this that way. Here’s his response.

    Outdoor movies and solar power are mutually exclusive. ;) Since it has to be dark for the movie to take place, there is no sunlight.

    What you need to consider is either storing the energy for the movie ahead of time, or an alternate energy source.

    Here are some options:

    1) Solar stored in batteries
    2) BioDiesel generators
    3) Human powered generators
    4) Wind and/or Hydro power

    First consider the energy density you need. A typical projector is going to consume 1000 to 2000 watts of power and a moive playing for about 2 hours. Add a factor of safty for inefficentcy and you’re talking about a lot of power.

    1) I don’t like “Solar stored in batteries” becasue it would be expensive, heavy and dangerious. Picture a big pile of deep cell batteries.

    2) A Biodiesel generator would be a good option, but noise and hard to convice people that you’re actually using BioDiesel.

    3) Human powered generators is the best option for safty and “coolness” but can be expensive. (more later)

    4) The Huron River does not have enough “head” at Riverside park and wind would be unpredictable. Having the movie near a Dam would be an option.

    If I’m reading your mind correctly, this is what you want:

    You can find DIY plans for bike generators at:

    You can also buy finished bike stands at:

    Keep in mind that a healty/fit person can produce about 100 watts of power for maybe 30 minutes. I think you would need 10 to 20 bikes plus a line of would-be pedelers. Each bike would have it’s own small battery to smooth out the power comming from the bike and to handle people switching riders. All the power would then be collected behind the screen (some place safe) and combined and sent to an inverter to convert the DC power to AC to run the projector.

    Sounds like a great event, but would be costly to put on. Maybe you could sell the bike stands after the show to recover some of the costs.
    I could see people siting on the Riverside Park’s sledding hill watching a movie with a line of bikes in back. There would be two prices to
    watch the movie. One for sitters and one for bikers. ;) Frog Island already has a theather area and might make a better location.

    So, if we want to have the movie at the river, it looks like, at least this time, we’re going to need to find a plug. I ultimately want to wark toward the bank of 20 bikes. That would be cool as hell. (I wondeer if anyone’s tried to do it at Burning Man yet.)

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