If this summer’s free film series in Santa Barbara has proven anything, it’s that Alfred Hitchcock can still capture audiences.
The weekly screenings of Hitchcock's classic thrillers have packed Campbell Hall at UCSB and the Santa Barbara Courthouse’s Sunken Garden for two months straight, and the finale film, Strangers on a Train, is scheduled for 8:30 p.m. Friday.
It’s the fourth annual film series with collaboration between UCSB Arts & Lectures and the Santa Barbara County Arts Commission, and it’s by far the most popular, said Ginny Brush, executive director of the Arts Commission.
Previous years have had 1,200 to 2,000 people come out, but Hitchcock films brought out closer to 3,000 for the most popular films, she said.
“Even at UCSB, they’re getting the largest crowds they’ve gotten out there," she said. "They thought it would just be students, but they said older people were going because they’d rather not sit on the grass.”
Brush collaborates with Roman Baratiak, associate director of UCSB’s Arts & Lectures, to come up with the theme and titles each year. Since the groups have worked together, they’ve chosen classic-movie themes: singing and dancing musicals, monster movies and science fiction/alien films.
“Our first year we were involved we did a classic movie monster series, and I had no idea how it was going to go,” Baratiak said. “It was amazing to see how many people were there for the first screening.”
They’ve added more bathrooms and cleanup crews, and beefed up security this year due to the huge crowds.
“A part of that is a response to the fact that people are arriving early for the 5 o’clock reserve your space, and security is there to control the land rush that happens,” Baratiak said.
Once the courthouse tower clock strikes 5 p.m. every Friday, the gathered crowd of people rushes onto the lower garden and throws down blankets and chairs to stake their claim.
People seem to be putting down blankets earlier and earlier for the upper areas of lawn as well, with the entire half-block area full at least an hour before each movie starts.
“For the whole younger generation, this is all new to them,” Brush said. “I mean, I grew up on these things, The Birds and Rear Window, and I think there’s more fascination with that style, the Hitchcock style with suspense.”
She thinks the recent movie Hitchcock could have something to do with it, too.
It’s becoming a summer tradition for locals and will continue as long as groups work together to fund it, Brush said.
The County Parks Foundation helps pay for the projectionist — which had better sound and picture quality this year, Baratiak points out — and the County Parks Department provides rangers for security and some help with cleanup.
Baratiak chose Vertigo, Rear Window, North by Northwest, Psycho, Shadow of a Doubt, Notorious, The Birds and Strangers on a Train for this year’s lineup.
“Hitchcock really resonated with folks,” Baratiak said. “I think as long as people have a good experience, it will tend to grow every year.”
He’s already planning for next year’s theme but won’t give any hints. He did say that the series isn’t designed to screen family films, partly because of the late start time and the kinds of films they choose.