By Anthony Costello, June 18, 2015.
As the blazing heat of another Arizona summer approaches, any outdoor activities that don’t involve pools or large bodies of water are sidelined till the crisp air of fall arrives.
Fortunately, there’s the slew of upcoming summer blockbusters from Jurassic World to Marvel’s Antman to get you out of the house and into the cool confines of a dark movie theater. And what better way to take in a flick than with a diverse group of likeminded people from the LGBT community?
The Phoenix Movie Bears have you covered as the premier LGBT movie screening group in Valley, and new members are always invited.
“We all relate to film differently,” said Joshua Hastings, Phoenix Movie Bears president and founder. “Movies would be our way to bring people together. Our Movie Bears are the heart of the group … Movies, no matter the genre, really just sell themselves.”
Hastings founded the Phoenix-based group Feb. 27, 2008, not long after moving here from Seattle, Wash., with his partner.
“We had a small circle of friends here and wanted to do a lot more things in the community,” Hastings said. “We invited a few close friends and it just ballooned from there. Within a few months we had 15 to 20 members.”
As Valley temperatures soar into the triple digits, Hastings expects membership and group participation to spike, too.
There are between 700 and 800 members, according to the group’s Facebook page. It is here that the group engages – via posts, discussions and reviews of the latest movies – between theatre outings.
But when it comes time to hit the box office, the number of members who attend screenings varies, with as many as 60 showing up for a single viewing. To accommodate as many members as possible, the Movie Bears typically meet on Wednesday evenings at theatres in and around central-Phoenix, but occasionally venture out as far as north Phoenix and even Chandler, on occasion.
“We try to be more central, it’s easier that way for people who live in north Phoenix and east Scottsdale,” Hastings said. “We like to explore other venues. Sometimes when we pick different theatres, we happen to get new members as well.”
Although the group was primarily founded by gay men and men who identify as “bears,” Hastings said he decided to open up the group to everyone in the LGBT community in 2010.
“By doing that early on, we’ve embraced reaching out to other groups to build diverse membership,” he said. “Each individual person we consider a movie bear, whether you’re male or female … We didn’t want to pigeonhole the group.”
When the group first formed, seven years ago, consumers didn’t have nearly as many options for watching movies as they do today. Despite the modern-day conveniences of Redbox, On Demand, streaming cable networks and online video subscriptions, such as Nexflix and Hulu Plus, Hastings said nothing beats seeing a movie with a group of friends.
“Seeing a movie in a theatre will always be the preferred movie-watching experience,” Hastings said. “Where else you going to get that fresh warm buttery popcorn?”
However, Hasting added that, from time to time the group hosts exclusive advance screenings and attend film festivals or community events to catch limited releases.
While the Movie Bears don’t necessarily take LGBT themes, roles or actors into account when selecting which movies to attend as a group – for the most part, movies events are driven by member requests – Hastings said seeing the LGBT community reflected on the silver screen is still significant.
“It has only been the past two to three years that have produced several big films with LGBT roles one after another,” he said. “I think each of these, no matter how big or small, plays a [significant] part in the industry, LGBT communities and especially how it connects in someone’s personal life.”
The Movie Bears coordinating team meets to discuss activities and schedule upcoming films and plan community events involvement. Additionally, members are welcome to make movie requests and suggest outings and activities during Movie Socials and coffee gatherings (visit facebook.com/phoenixmoviebears for more information).
“We, at times, invite members to see advance screenings of films for us to write reviews and post on our website ... for all to read,” he said. “It’s an amazing experience for those that participate.”
As membership increases, especially over the summer months, Hastings plans to shift the focus to group fundraising to plan more group outings – and you’re invited.
For more information on the Phoenix Movie Bears, including upcoming events and chances to get free VIP screenings to select films, follow them on Facebook at facebook.com/phoenixmoviebears. Or, for more information on the nationwide Movie Bear network, reviews, trailers and more, visit moviebears.com.
Bonus Summer Cinema DVD Reviews: