Free, discounted movies offered throughout county during cold months
There's no denying the fun of watching an action-packed blockbuster on opening night, and “Harry Potter” fans likely won't forget standing in long lines for the midnight premiere of the beloved wizard's final adventure on the big screen.
But another thrill awaits moviegoers in Sonoma County - something lesser-known but widely appealing: free and low-cost movies at local libraries, colleges, theaters and halls.
While Rohnert Park's Green Music Center and several cities and organizations offer popular outdoor movie series during the summer months, there are options to see free and discounted films during the colder seasons, and in the comfort of heated venues.
You may have to forgo luxury seats and cup holders, in some cases, but it's an even trade to watch recent titles, vintage movies, family films or horror classics at affordable prices or, better yet, for free. Some hosts even provide complimentary popcorn.
Sonoma County Library rolls the projectors year-round, with everything from kids' favorites to documentaries to treasured holiday classics. Each branch schedules its own programming; some are occasional, while others, like the Central Santa Rosa Library, have monthly series.
Earlier this month, the forum room at the central branch was darkened for a Día de Los Muertos screening of “Coco,” the Academy Award-winning Disney-Pixar animated film about a young boy's adventures in the bright and beautiful Land of the Dead. Petaluma Regional Library hosted the film the same day, with children invited to decorate large boxes as cars and trucks for a pint-sized, drive-in movie experience.
Mercedes, a Santa Rosa grandmother of 11 who preferred not to give her last name, was among those watching “Coco” at the central branch. She was succinct about what brought her out for the movie: “It's free.”
Mercedes, 59, usually attends the Central Santa Rosa Library's Third Friday Family Movie Night series, sometimes with grandchildren in tow. With free popcorn, pretzels and juice boxes, it's a special treat for the family.
Kim Dargeou, a children's services librarian at the branch, said the series is ideal for youngsters, including toddlers “who may not be ready for a movie theater.” She sets up seating with adult- and kid-sized chairs and a carpet in front for children who might prefer to stretch out during the movie.
“It's a chance for them to get to know other kids,” Dargeou said. “If they get chatty a bit, it's not a problem.”
She said part of the fun is watching children's reactions to the big-screen adventures. When one cheers or boos, other kids often join along. Adults are understanding. As she explains before each screening, “It's a kids' event.”
Other library screenings cater to various audiences. Upcoming events include teen movie nights in Cloverdale; documentaries observing Native American History Month; a fall documentary film series; and a North Bay movie classics presentation of “It's a Wonderful Life.”
The Sonoma Film Institute at Sonoma State University, as well as the Petaluma Film Alliance at Santa Rosa Junior College's Petaluma campus, provide free and low-cost movies in a variety of genres.
There's a half-price night at Sonoma 9 Cinemas in Boyes Hot Springs, and in Santa Rosa two theaters host discount days and Third Street Cinema offers several deals for budget-conscious moviegoers. Santa Rosa's Schulz Museum schedules various Peanuts movies every month, and hosts its First Friday Film Series from February to May that screens feature films favored by the beloved cartoonist, Charles M. Schulz.
Free holiday movies are offered in Yountville in neighboring Napa Valley, too.
Catherine DePrima, marketing director for Santa Rosa Cinemas, formerly Santa Rosa Entertainment Group, said there's great appeal in sitting in a movie theater, forum room or auditorium as part of an audience focused on the big screen. Watching a video at home may be convenient, but for DePrima, “I have a hard time sitting at home worrying about what I should be doing.”
Those who want to venture out - away from thoughts of laundry, dirty dishes and other household chores - might consider some of the options listed below. From free films to tickets topping off at $6 a person, here's a sampling of movie deals around the region:
Sonoma County Library
In addition to providing free DVD movie rentals and the on-demand film streaming service Kanopy, with more than 30,000 titles, Sonoma County Library hosts numerous free screenings at branches throughout the county.
Upcoming films include “Won't You Be My Neighbor?,” part of the Fall Documentary Film Series, at 11 a.m. Wednesday at the Healdsburg Regional Library, 139 Piper St.; “Brother Bear” at 4 p.m. Friday, part of the Third Friday Family Movie Night series at the Central Santa Rosa Library, 211 E St.; Teen Movie Night at 4 p.m. Friday, featuring “The Golden Compass” at the Cloverdale Regional Library, 401 N. Cloverdale Blvd.; and “Up Heartbreak Hill,” part of Native American Heritage Month, at 1 p.m. Saturday at the Central Santa Rosa Library.