Film showings draw crowds to McHenry County parks for free, family-oriented entertainment

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The last hot pinks and golds of sunset have melted down past the horizon, and the sky is now a light purple-gray. Not full night, but too dark to play catch.

The sick-sweet smell of bug repellent hangs in the air, and arms move all around in a gentle involuntary flail, holding mosquitoes at bay.

It’s movie time, and hundreds of people are gathered on the grassy lawn at Woodstock’s Water Works at Emricson Park ready to watch “Frozen.”

Seven-year-old Karina and 4-year-old Natalia Porcayo have been waiting all day.

The Woodstock sisters soon will be among the chorus of tiny voices singing, “Do you wanna build a snowman?” just a half beat behind the movie’s protagonist, Anna.

Organizers agree, the community’s first movie in the park of the summer was a success.

The details will be different, but similar scenes will play out this summer across McHenry County as local programs get into full swing.

Crystal Lake, Algonquin, Lake in the Hills, Harvard and other communities have hosted the free, outdoor family-oriented films.

“It’s a great opportunity to get out in the community and be social and make friends,” said Brad Bell of Woodstock. His family was among about 300 people gathered recently to watch “Frozen” at Emricson Park.

Bell brought his sons, Colin, 2, and Lucas, 5, along with a friend from out of town and his 3-year-old daughter, Molly.

Colin had just toddled over to a neighboring family’s blanket and returned with a borrowed bowl of popcorn.

It was the group’s first movie in the park, just as it was for the Murphy family seated a few rows of folding chairs behind the Bells.

“We saw this in the paper and decided it looked like something fun to to do,” said Melissa Murphy, also of Woodstock.

She brought her 23-month old son, Brody, and her sister, Sarah Murphy.

The family was part of the near-record crowd for Woodstock’s program.

In it’s eighth season, the first shows of the summer sometimes only draw 35 to 40 guests, said Cindy Smiley, executive assistant to the mayor of Woodstock and the event’s organizer.

The turnout was gratifying, she said. Woodstock was the first community in McHenry County to host free movies in the park, Smiley said, and it was not easy being the trailblazer.

In the beginning, public works employees would drive to Bartlett and borrow equipment for the programs. And Smiley did not realize for the first two years that she needed to go through a licensed distributor to legally play movies for the public.

“There are lots of rules,” Smiley said. “For instance, you can only show Disney movies for about two weeks during the summer.”

She suspects the rule prevents competition when the company has a film out in standard theaters.

But now, a few years and a lesson or two about copyright law later, Woodstock is on the lending end of equipment and works with Swank Entertainment to rent the films it shows.

Smiley shares her tools and knowledge with the Harvard officials each fall.

Lake in the Hills and Algonquin also host free movies through cooperation. Algonquin’s recreation department, the Algonquin Area Public Library and the Lake in the Hills Recreation Department work together to screen outdoor films for the residents of both villages, said Katie Gock, recreation coordinator for the village of Algonquin.

The joint effort is a cost-effective way for both communities to be able to enjoy free movies in the summer, Gock said.

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