Floating Our Boats

In Paris, a “floating cinema” emerged as a creative response to COVID, and now the concept is going global. We should make waves while going to the movies in the River City as well.
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Photo courtesy of Spark-Agency
A rendering of the Cinema on the Water event in Paris shows filmgoers taking in an outdoor screening of "Le Grand Bain" while on physically distanced boats.

The Idea
On July 18, as part of a summer festival, a Paris-based movie theater chain hosted an inspired one-night-only event called Le Cinéma sur l’Eau (Cinema on the Water) on a placid canal near the Seine river, where 150 lucky attendees (selected by lottery) boarded 38 small electric boats to watch the appropriately water-themed French comedy Le Grand Bain. Another 150 cinephiles watched from physically distanced lounge chairs on the shore.

Now an Australian event company is planning similar screenings in a handful of American cities, like Austin, Cleveland, Philadelphia and San Francisco, for five-day runs in September. But not here.

Sacramento, with our temperate climate, loves a good outdoor film, and what better way to ensure social distancing than to sit in separate water vehicles under the stars? Maybe we could even screen water-themed movies with Sacramento connections like 1987’s The River’s Edge starring Keanu Reeves and 1927’s Steamboat Bill, Jr. starring Buster Keaton, both of which were filmed here.

The Players
The trick is finding a body of water that’s calm and safe, so the Sacramento and American rivers are out.

The swan paddleboats at Cal Expo may be long gone, but the man-made lagoon there would still make for a perfect movie theater on the water, with the venue’s large exhibit towers serving as screen backdrops.

Another good option: the Sacramento State Aquatic Center on Lake Natoma in Gold River. Not only is the water still enough for crew boats to practice, but the center has dozens of floatables on hand, from canoes and kayaks to rafts and small sailboats and power boats. Set up an inflatable screen on shore and we’d be living the celluloid life aquatic in no time.

Maybe the university’s film department could get involved too, with both equipment and movies. The school could invite alum Ryan Coogler back for a special screening of his 2018 blockbuster Black Panther.

The Bottom Line
The cold and rainy season usually doesn’t start until around Halloween, so we still have an opportunity to host our version of a floating cinema this year if the involved parties act fast.

The event in Paris and the ones coming to U.S. cities in September are free to patrons; the funding comes from sponsors, such as Häagen-Dazs in Paris, for example (where they also doled out complimentary ice cream, of course). Surely, plenty of Sacramento companies would pony up sponsor dollars for a chance to make some waves with potential customers.

With the pandemic still ongoing, we need to get creative (and stay safe) with our entertainment options. Maybe this kind of silver screen viewing can be a small silver lining in this very stormy year.