Bernal on the Big Screen: Outdoor Cinema

Are you ready for your close-up, Bernal Heights?

This Thursday kicks off the 14th season of the Bernal Heights Outdoor Cinema. Each evening of September 7th – 9th you can meet neighbors and watch films that reflect the values of our neighborhood. I sat down with Anne Batmale and Leslie Lombre to talk about the local talent they showcase and what it means to the community.

Tell me how you two met and how the idea for the Outdoor Cinema started?

Anne: We met in 2001 while working on the Bernal Heights Neighborhood Center’s annual event Fiesta on the Hill. After working together on that event a few times Leslie came to me with the idea for Outdoor Cinema. She knew there were a lot of locals in film production. We thought it would be fun to create something to feature our neighbors and showcase their work. Leslie has a background in TV syndication and promotion.

Leslie: Before I worked on the Fiesta I was managing the San Francisco International Film Financing Conference. That conference brought together 200 filmmakers from around the country to meet and pitch to film distributors and producers. We both knew a lot filmmakers in this neighborhood. For example, all of my adjoining neighbors on Montezuma Street were somehow related to film. So it seemed perfectly right to do something here that showcased the talent we have in Bernal. We’re now in our 14th season.


Has this event always showcased Bernal Heights filmmakers?

Leslie: Yes, it’s always been hyper local. This neighborhood has a very artistic character. Over the years we’ve invited other film festivals to have screenings after our main films show.  We want to co-promote other festivals to give audiences a taste of what’s out there. Early on we experimented by holding film panels or a children’s showcase in the library, in addition to the screenings.

Anne: We wanted to help neighbors meet each other. One year we held a book talk because a filmmaker and professor at San Francisco State had authored a book on making documentary films. Another time we did a panel about music in film featuring composers and filmmakers. We’ve also had an emerging filmmakers panel.

Leslie: It’s important for people to understand Outdoor Cinema is completely supported by local sponsors. Neighborhood folks ask their companies to sponsor, and we have one big supporter, which is the San Francisco Arts Commission.



What awards are given and how you choose them?

Anne: We have a selection committee that’s a cross section of neighbors who screen all the submissions and vote. We distribute four awards:  Best of Bernal, Spirit of Bernal, Good Life Audience Award and the Emerging Filmmakers Award. 

The Best of Bernal is designated for local filmmakers. Someone on the crew has to be a Bernal resident.  This year that award is going to Emiko Omori – a cinematographer with a long history here in the city. She was one of the original camera people for KQED News, and she was the first Asian woman there. Her film is called When the Rabbit Left the Moon. It’s a sequel to a film she made several years ago called Rabbit in the Moon. That film showed in our first season in 2004. Emiko’s family was in the Japanese intermittent camps in World War II and this new film is a short remembrance using footage from the original film. It’s a silent film which premiered at the SF Asian American Film Festival.

The Spirit of Bernal is given to a film that resonates with the values of the neighborhood, like activism, inclusiveness, diversity and a sense of the common good,

This year the winner is The Ride – by Jeff Adachi – our public defender. He worked with Jim Choi. The editor was a Chihiro Wimbush. It’s a 15-minute short cut from a longer documentary.

The Good Life Audience Award is what it sounds like: the audience chooses a favorite. We’ll have to wait and see who wins in that category.

We created a new award this year called the Emerging Artist Award. We want to recognize younger filmmakers to encourage the next generation of storytellers. The Emerging Artist Award is going to Anabella Mortenson, a student at SOTA, for her film Cloud Runner.



Other than that, what’s new this year?

Leslie: One thing we’ve taken to the next level this year is our Film Crawl on Cortland which takes place after opening night. This Friday night event features screenings that start on the top of each hour at six venues. People walk to each venue to see a different line-up curated by one of the guest organizations. This year we have five presenters on Film Crawl night: the SF Urban Film Festival, SF Black Film Festival, Women’s Sports Film Festival, the Legacy Film Festival on Aging and BAVC, the Bay Area Video Coalition.

Anne: Friday night there’s also a late night screening at Barebottle Brewing Company. Minors are allowed because it’s a brewery and not a bar.



Anything else you’d like to say about this year’s film festival?

Leslie: Fans come from all over the Bay Area because this free event has a great reputation. To cut down on traffic congestion, we’ve tried to make sure our venues are accessible on foot and by public transportation.

Anne: We also want people to know about the final screening on September 27th at Barebottle Brewing Company called” the Best of Bernal”. That’s when we’ll show all the award-winning films. It’s another fun party – we love an excuse to bring people together to share their passion for film.


Link Love:

When the Rabbit Left the Moon: Emiko Omori – Best of Bernal Award

The Ride: Jeff Adachi & Jim Choi – Spirit of Bernal Award

Cloud Runner: Annabella Mortenson – Emerging Artist Award

Bernal Heights Outdoor Cinema

San Franciso Arts Commission

SF Urban Film Festival

SF Black Film Festival

Women’s Sports Film Festival

The Legacy Film Festival on Aging

BAVC Bay Area Video Coalition


Jen Baxter is a writer, photographer, and San Francisco native. She tells stories encouraging people to be more independent, aware and creative. You can find more work at or follow her on Instagram @JenBaxterSF