Free Outdoor Movies in Jersey City and Hudson County Parks

It’s that time of year again: Hudson County residents and visitors get to enjoy blockbuster films and silver screen classics every Wednesday and Friday night for free in our local and county parks. The screenings are made possible thanks to the volunteer work of numerous community park and neighborhood associations sprinkled throughout the county. Funding comes from a combination of donations from local residents (often raised at events), corporate sponsors, the city of Jersey City, the city of Hoboken, the County of Hudson, and the Jersey City and Hudson County Department of Parks.

Van Vorst Park started its movie series in 2004, explained longtime area resident Marlene Sandkamp, who founded the event with her husband, Tony, and their neighbor at the time Johnny Coffey. “We were the first outdoor film series in Jersey City,” said Marlene. The group initially screened just 2 to 3 films over the course of the entire summer but now they show a movie every other week- the screenings start run through the end of August.

Fundraisers held by the Friends of Van Vorst Park have included a meatball/wine tasting event at Victory Hall, an 80s-style prom at The Barrow Mansion, and an evening of salsa under the stars in the park itself. Generous donors have included Jersey City Medical Center, PSE&G, New Jersey Beer Co. and Silverman. “We need to raise approximately $4,000 a year to host the movies, and in exchange we play an 8-minute video to advertise our biggest donors at the start of each film,” explains Marlene. The biggest expense is obtaining the licensing rights to show the films; the equipment itself is also costly as it needs to be updated or replaced every few years.

In terms of choosing films and setting up the screen each week, Marlene takes control. “I do all of the research. What’s available, the cost, and check with neighbors on what they’d like to see.” Optimally, the group wants to offer a wide range of movie choices. Typically the offerings include some movies that were popular on the big screen the year before, some throwback classics, and at least one children’s movie and one musical. Before each screening, Marlene meets in the park with a group of volunteers to set up. Dan Weber, a resident of Van Vorst, covers the lights with plastic while Tony sets up the projector; Marlene and her friends erect the screen.

The group also recruits passersby to help. “I ask ‘Can you help me with this speaker?’,” said Marlene. “People here are very willing to lend a hand.” The same goes for all of the screenings, the organizers rely on vounteers to help set up and break down the equipment as well as dole out popcorn and help any residents with special needs.

The Hamilton Park Neighborhood Association started a smaller program in 2013.  This summer it’s showing four films.

The “Movies in the Parks” series was launched by the Riverview Neighborhood Association (RNA) in 2007. In 2009, the Washington Park Association (WPA), under the leadership of its president, Nick Caballero, joined forces with RNA to expand the series to Washington Park. WPA also subsequently spearheaded a broader expansion of the program countywide to include Bayonne (Stephen R. Gregg Park), Hoboken (Columbus Park), Kearny (West Hudson Park), and North Bergen (JJ Bradock Park). While Nick and the WPA conceived of the series as a way to bring the community together and have families meet, various governmental hurdles initially proved a big, unexpected challenge. “At the county level, there are huge permissions [and] logistics to showing films in public spaces and liabilities,” Nick explained. But after running the “Movies in the Parks” program for several years this county wide program is in order, Nick’s vision has come to fruition. “If you look at other parks across the river, the most phenomenal communities, the most tight-knit neighborhoods are those that surround parks,” said Nick. “Communities are starving to have activities that bring them and their families together, and movies in the park is just one way to do that.”

Hoboken has its own movie series: “Movies Under the Stars,” featuring 10 films at Pier A Park this season. Hoboken’s series is organized by the of  City of Hoboken, Projected Images of Hudson County, and The Hudson County Division of Cultural & Heritage Affairs.

All of screenings are free and all of the parks are wheelchair accessible. The countywide “Movies in the Parks” series and the Van Vorst Park film series include free popcorn. The “Movies in the Parks” films include Spanish subtitles. In June and July the movies begin at sunset, which is usually between 8:30 and 9 pm; in August, the films start around 8 pm. It’s best to arrive early to secure your preferred seating. Don’t forget your lawn chairs and blankets!

Note: See our latest article for 2017 Movie Schedule

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Liz Morrill and Catherine Hecht contributed to this article. Photo courtesy Friends of Van Vorst Park

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is a book editor, copywriter, and contributing writer for various online publications. She loves to wander, learn, create and discover, which led her to create Jersey City Gal, a place where she promotes local businesses and shares her experiences with the Jersey City community.