The first time I watched a movie in the Hollywood Forever Cemetery, I was 19 years old. My friends and I — all Los Angeles natives — had purchased last minute tickets to a Cinespia screening of The Graduate. Having grown up in L.A., we had long heard about the magical outdoor screenings: those late summer nights watching cult films and cinematic classics in a sacred atmosphere, one that can only be created in a cemetery where Hollywood legends are buried.
That perfect combination of Hollywood history, pop culture, and ethereal summer evenings is why Cinespia is celebrating its 16th season.
I spoke with Alia Penner, Artistic Director of Cinespia, about her work as one of its organizers for the past 16 years. Along with founder John Wyatt, Alia organizes Cinespia screenings every summer. An independent artist, Alia also designs the incredibly elaborate photo booth buildouts at each screening, inspired by whichever beloved film is being shown that weekend.
We discussed exciting screenings happening this summer, her favorite Cinespia memory, and why a cemetery in the heart of Hollywood is the perfect place to watch a movie.
HelloGiggles: What films are you especially excited to screen at Cinespia this season?
HG: Can you describe how you and John choose which films to screen during a season?
AP: We have a definite formula for choosing the films. From my side, I love the movies with strong central female characters or movies that women can identify with. The majority of our audience are young women in their 20s. We love to introduce new audiences to the great classics and female stars of the past. Marilyn, Liz, Claudette Colbert, Katherine Hepburn, Audrey are examples of stars I love to highlight. The women of today can learn so much from the great performances of the pioneers, and hopefully the young women who come to Cinespia leave inspired!
HG: How does your work as an artist inform your work for Cinespia, especially when it comes to the photo booth buildouts?
AP: Movies have always brought a lot of inspiration to my art. The photo booths have been an incredible opportunity to interpret classic films in a new way. For The Virgin Suicides we created an entire teenage bedroom painted in a cloudy blue sky. My favorite photo booth of this season was for The Wizard of Oz. I had my friend Rowan Blanchard play Dorothy and we made a giant field of poppies, it was a dream come true.
HG: Cinespia is turning 16 — which is incredible. Do you have a favorite memory from your time with Cinespia so far?
AP: One of my favorite memories at Cinespia was when we played Showgirls. It was a gorgeous L.A. afternoon, Same-sex marriage was legalized that day, and everyone was celebrating — then Elizabeth Berkeley surprised everyone before the film and the crowd went wild. It’s one of my favorite films. I LOVE SHOWGIRLS.
HG: What makes Hollywood Forever the ideal location for these screenings to take place?
AP: The cemetery grounds are like no where else in world. Every movie night is special at Cinespia — but sometimes when the moon is full and it rises behind the mausoleum, you can feel the magic in the air.
You can explore upcoming Cinespia screenings and get tickets here.