We’ve arrived at Yanaguana Garden, and I quickly spot an opening in the field big enough for my crew and our picnic blanket. Years ago, I might have hemmed and hawed about the best place to sit and view the giant inflatable screen sitting on the south end of the field. But this seasoned Slab Cinema mama knows how to go in for the kill. After we’ve spread out the blanket and set up my camping chair, we set out for paletas and the playground before showtime. My kids have grown up going to school and attending events in the heart of the city. And although Slab Cinema hosts screenings at a number of locations downtown and throughout San Antonio, it feels like going to a party in a friend’s backyard wherever we go to watch.
As sunset and showtime approach, we make our way back from playing and catching up with friends. I’ve made it a tradition to bring a batch of homemade stove-top popcorn, which I pass out to the kids before we hunker down for one of our favorite movies on the big screen: The Never-Ending Story. The kids kick off their flip flops and sprawl out on the blanket, and we’re transported to the story on the screen.
If I could choose just one activity to do with my kids all summer long, it would be watching outdoor movies with San Antonio’s homegrown Slab Cinema. Owners Rick and Angela Martinez first started screenings on a slab wall in the parking lot of La Tuna back in 2004, and have screened hundreds of films to audiences of 1,000+ since then. To say they’ve made an impact on the community would be an understatement.
With four kids of my own, finding something that everyone loves to do—and that I can afford—can certainly be a challenge, especially during the summer. There’s no worry about trading fun for frugality when it’s outdoor movie night, though. We’ve been going to outdoor screenings since my oldest was in elementary school (he’s off to high school in the fall), and it’s become a summer tradition ever since.
We originally started going way back when they were shown on the lawn behind the Magik Theater (pre-Yanaguana). We’d grab a blanket, chairs, and snacks and pile up in the car to head out for a family night out. San Antonio summers are a beast, so unless you’re up and at ‘em by dawn, you’re pretty much going to sweat and singe your way through the day if you try to do anything outdoors. But Slab Cinema’s outdoor movies, shown in the evening, allow you to experience a slice of the outdoors in our beautiful city sans the burning sun.
Some of my favorite screenings over the years have been held at the Botanical Garden, Travis Park, and the new Yanaguana. They’ve also shown films at Sunset Station, Mission Marquee Plaza, the San Antonio Museum of Art, and Woodlawn Lake, to name a few. This summer, the kids and I are looking forward to The Secret Life of Pets, Finding Dory, and Zootopia at Travis Park and The Jungle Book and Trolls at Mission Marquee. I may even sneak out for a girls’ night out to see Sixteen Candles or The Princess Bride at Mission Marquee.
Throughout our movie-going experience at Slab Cinema, we’ve made new friends and gathered and reconnected with old ones. I’ve fallen back in love with some of my favorite childhood films and enjoyed more recent box office releases. We’ve glimpsed up to the night sky to see bats circling overhead and wished on the first stars of the evening. We’ve gathered up buckets of memories that we’ll look back on for years to come.
When the movie’s over we stretch our legs and shake out the picnic blanket. The kids make one last round of goodbyes to friends. As I walk back to the car with my six-year-old on my back, I take a deep breath to soak up the last moments of these magic summer nights. The kids will fall asleep despite the short ride home, and I’ll fall asleep just as quickly when my head hits the pillow. We only have so many summers, and these weekly movies help me put the world on pause, if only for a few hours. Put this one on your summer bucket list, San Antonio. See you at the movies!