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Films in the fresh air for families and teens

Thanks to two dedicated local groups, Los Altans looking to enjoy a summer movie can opt to avoid the high prices and sticky seats of a multiplex and spend their Friday evenings under the stars.

The Los Altos Village Association's series of family-friendly movie screenings is scheduled Friday nights at dusk through Aug. 31 on Main Street between Second and Third streets. And while LAVA movie nights have been a big hit with the age 5-10 crowd and their parents, teens looking for something a little more age-appropriate can turn to the new teen-oriented movie nights presented jointly by the Los Altos Recreation Department and the Mountain View Recreation Division. Teen movie nights are scheduled July 13 at the Hillview Baseball Field, July 27 at the Rengstorff Park Pool and Aug. 10 at Cuesta Park. Admission is free.

The LAVA movie nights have grown in size and become a town tradition since they began in summer 2004. Every Friday evening staff from the Village Association and the Mountain View Day Worker Center close off a block of Main Street and set up equipment. LAVA Executive Director Nancy Dunaway said that some families arrive at 6 p.m. sharp to snag good spots.

"They actually stand on the sidewalk with their chairs, and when the barricades go up they move out onto the street," she said.

While moviegoers wait for the sun to go down, they can browse, shop and dine in select Main Street businesses that stay open on movie nights. Dunaway noted that some business owners make a conscious effort to rearrange their schedules to stay open, including A.G. Ferrari Foods, Cover Story and Satura Cakes. A bounce house and balloon artist will entertain children before the movies begin, and volunteers from the Los Altos Little League will operate a Snack Shack selling movie treats to benefit the league. Picnics are common, and those in the know bring chairs and blankets to lay out for seating. Though not strictly prohibited, bringing pets is discouraged.

"They don't look particularly happy," Dunaway said, so "leave your puppies at home."

Expect a particularly colorful crowd at the July 20 screening of "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone," scheduled to coincide with the midnight release of the seventh Harry Potter book. LAVA has organized a costume contest and scavenger hunt to mark the occasion. After the film, Potter enthusiasts can head right down the street to Linden Tree Children's Recordings & Books, which will open at midnight for the book release.

Teen movie nights in the park are the brainchild of the Youth Commission, an advisory group of Los Altos teenagers who worked with the recreation department to produce the event. In fact, the teen commissioners will be personally manning a concessions stand during the screenings, handing out complimentary popcorn and lemonade. Recreation department supervisor Beverly Tucker said she hopes the movie nights will spark interest in other teen-oriented programs.

"(The movies) are a way for people to hear what the Youth Commission is doing. They are very active," she said, citing the teen program's dances as a particular success.

"It would probably be too big of an undertaking for just us," Tucker said, so the Los Altos and Mountain View commissions teamed up to make the movie nights happen, cooperating and sharing equipment.

Two Los Altos parks on different sides of town were deliberately chosen to best serve as many Los Altans as possible.

"We wanted it to be a little more accessible to people," Tucker said.

By far the most unusual viewing experience will be the Youth Commission's July 27 screening, planned at Mountain View's Rengstorff Park Pool. Once the screen is set up at one end of the pool, the pool-shy can watch from solid ground while the more aquatically inclined are invited to bring rafts or inner tubes and watch from the water. Lifeguards will be on hand at all times.

Both events face the challenge of meeting expenses for equipment, staffing and movie rights. Most of the funding for LAVA's movies comes from the proceeds of the Los Altos Arts & Wine Festival, but they are also sponsored by 16 local businesses that will be acknowledged at each showing.

"We would love for people to support our sponsors and express their appreciation to them," Dunaway said.

The fledgling teen movie nights, staffed by a team of volunteers and recreation department staff, are funded by the city-sponsored Los Altos and Mountain View youth commissions.

LAVA's first showing of the summer, a screening of "Happy Feet" on June 22, drew a crowd of nearly 400 viewers, almost double the turnout of the final showing of last summer. Though the Youth Commission doesn't expect to achieve such high attendance at first try, LAVA movie nights' gradual but substantial growth may be a good sign for the future prospects of the younger event.

"We'd really like to see 150 kids there," Tucker said, but as long as the audience is having fun, "we'll be happy no matter what."

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The Town Crier welcomes letters to the editor on current events pertinent to Los Altos, Los Altos Hills and Mountain View. Write to us at 138 Main St., Los Altos 94022, Attn: Editor, or email editor Bruce Barton at bruceb@latc.com. Because editorial space is limited, please confine letters to no more than 200 words. Include a phone number for verification purposes. Anonymous letters will not be printed.

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