Free Movies Series Gets Creative

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As the sun set on The Riverhead Project restaurant on Tuesday night, owner Dennis McDermott’s latest brainchild came out to play: The Movie Project.

The concept is fairly simple. Every week, a guest curator picks a slate of four movies, based on a personal theme, that screens outside on the bar patio for free on Mondays, Thursdays, Fridays and Sundays. And on the down nights, it’s the owner’s pick—which has most recently been the film “Saturday Night Fever.”

“Technically, there’s not a movie tonight, but I put a movie on every single night,” Mr. McDermott said over a glass of gin earlier in the evening, and laughed, “My staff hates me. We’re playing it three times a week. But you know what? Everyone loves ‘Saturday Night Fever.’”

While the filler movie may not be changing anytime soon, July is bringing a brand new lineup of flicks selected by fresh curators. The month kicks off with Zombie Week flicks chosen by Sheri Winter Clary, an associate real estate broker with The Corcoran group on the North Fork, and concludes with authors Yvonne Lieblein’s and Jason Hefter’s “Book-Inspired Flicks Females Love.”

Hairstylist Kevin Maple, bartender and mother Melanie Hand, and Suffolk County Historical Society Director Kathy Curran are sandwiched in between with their “Movies About Hair,” “Pirates of the Caribbean” and “Movies Filmed in Suffolk County” weeks, respectively.

“The curators are just friends of mine. I’m never gonna run out of people to do a week,” Mr. McDermott said. “I’ll have my mother do a week. It’s a neighborhood, community-building series, and it’s a win-win. It’s just fun.”

Mr. Maple’s decision to guest curate was an easy one, the Southampton-based hairstylist explained last week during a telephone interview. His theme was obvious.

“I figured it had to be about hair,” he said.

His program—which will screen from Sunday, July 14, through Friday, July 19, includes “Shampoo,” “Hairspray,” “Steel Magnolias” and “Priscilla, Queen of the Desert”—falls in line with his life passion, one that Mr. Maple discovered in fourth grade when he was just 10 years old.

“I had sisters and I was always playing with their hair and it was just something that came to me naturally,” he said. “For as long as I can remember, I was always fooling around with hair. And I was cutting hair before I was even taught how to in school.”

“I picked these movies because they needed to be hair-related,” he continued. “‘Steel Magnolias’ is all about life in a salon, really, and then ‘Priscilla’ wrapping it up is just fun because the wigs are amazing.”

The Movie Project is not just a summer gig, Mr. McDermott explained. He plans to continue the series year-round, he said. When the temperatures drop, he’ll pump the sound into the bar lounge area, where the audience can still see the 15-foot-wide-by-10-foot-high screen through the glass double doors while munching on complimentary popcorn.

“I’m doing this because it’s fun and it’s cool, and I know those are really cliché things, but it’s true,” he said. “Because it makes owning a restaurant a little funner.”

At 8:45 p.m. on Tuesday night, Mr. McDermott flipped on the projector, which filled the outdoor screen with the familiar opening scene of “Saturday Night Fever”—lead actor John Travolta cruising the Brooklyn streets to disco anthem “Stayin’ Alive” by the Bee Gees.

“It’s a blast,” Mr. McDermott said, scooping a handful of popcorn into his mouth before disappearing into the restaurant, subconsciously stepping in time to the beat.

The Movie Project continues with a new slate of movies on Monday, Thursday, Friday and Sunday nights at dusk at The Riverhead Project in Riverhead. Zombie classics “The Return of the Living Dead” and “28 Days Later” will screen on Thursday, July 4, and Friday, July 5, respectively. “Movies About Hair” kicks off with “Shampoo” on Sunday, July 7, followed by “Hairspray” on Monday, July 8; “Steel Magnolias” on Thursday, July 11; and “Priscilla, Queen of the Desert,” on Friday, July 12. The “Pirates of the Caribbean” series will screen the next week—“The Curse of the Black Pearl” on Sunday, July 14; “At World’s End” on Monday, July 15; “Dead Man’s Chest” on Thursday, July 18; and “On Stranger Tides” on Friday, July 19. “Movies Filmed in Suffolk County” will feature “Rocket Gibraltar” on Sunday, July 21; “Splendor in the Grass” on Monday, July 22; “Sweet Liberty” on Thursday, July 25; and “The Devil’s Own” on Friday, July 26. Wrapping up the month are “Book-Inspired Flicks Females Love,” starting with “Under the Tuscan Sun” on Sunday, July 28; “In Her Shoes” on Monday, July 29; “The First Wives Club” on Thursday, August 1; and “Bridget Jones’s Diary” on Friday, August 2. Admission is free. For a full schedule, call 284-9300 or visit theriverheadproject.com.

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