Rooftop cinema

Posted: January 3rd, 2014 | Arts & Entertainment, From the Cover, News, Top Story | 7 Comments

San Diego’s favorite programmer brings films into focus

By Cynthia Robertson | SDUN Reporter

When the lights dim and the first scene of a film begins at the Central Library’s Film Forum, Ralph DeLauro feels most alive. DeLauro, beloved by film buffs all around San Diego, has presented films at libraries and Mission Hills’ outdoor film series “Cinema Under the Stars” for decades. It’s not a way of life for him; it is his life.

Ralph DeLauro shows the comedy-drama “Hello, I Must Be Going” at the Downtown Central Library. (Photo by Cynthia Robertson)

Ralph DeLauro shows the comedy-drama “Hello, I Must Be Going” at the Downtown Central Library. (Photo by Cynthia Robertson)

DeLauro’s first gig as film programmer sprouted in the early ‘80s in San Diego’s old Greenwich Village West, an artist colony in today’s Gaslamp District. He lived in a building there that still stands today, the Historic Lincoln Hotel.

While there were musicians, writers, painters, stained-glass artists and other creative types living there, no one was involved with film. Since that was DeLauro’s passion, he decided to start showing films on the rooftop of the building.

“Some of the guys helped me build a screen out of plywood and painted it white. Someone else gave me an old 16mm projector and I borrowed the films from the library,” he said.

After about a year of screening films on the rooftop, DeLauro walked into the old Central Library Downtown and asked if he could start film screenings at the Library.

“Fortunately, [San Diego Librarian] Lois Hyman, bless her heart, said ‘Yes’ and that jump-started the Central Library screenings,” DeLauro said.

Film enthusiasts from as far away as Los Angeles have come to film screenings presented by DeLauro. Sometimes they walk out of a film, for whatever reason.

“The fact that they do keep coming back even after walking out of a movie one time shows how strong for them the attraction is for film,” said DeLauro, who also teaches film classes through OASIS, an educational, social organization geared toward the elderly.

DeLauro has many favorite films, bu the says “2001: A Space Odyssey, truly opened his eyes.”

“It’s a film that touched me on a spiritual, intellectual, emotional and technical level,” he said.

Watching the changes in technique and technicality over the past decades, DeLauro appreciates the fact that more creative, talented people now have the ability to act in as well as produce movies.

The downside of this, however, is that film has become “disposable entertainment,” DeLauro said. “Like pop music — here today, gone in two weeks.”

Just within the last few years, DeLauro has also been screening films at other branch libraries as an independent contractor. As for “Cinema Under the Stars,” DeLauro had been screening films at Better World Galleria, a bookstore in Mission Hills. The owners of the Better World introduced him to Doug Yeagley, owner of Tops Salon, who wanted to create something in the patio behind his salon. They transformed the area into an outdoor movie theater, opening it in May of 1991.

DeLauro didn’t operate alone, however, his wife Carol enthusiastically helped transform her husband’s hobby into a true career.

“When I first met Ralph on September 1st, 1982, he didn’t own anything. Not even a sleeping bag!” She said, laughing. “He spent his money going to the movies.”

“I want to give thanks to Carol, my wife, for her aid and assistance, for backing all my projects and putting up with the madness and craziness of the film exhibition world,” DeLauro responded with a smile.

On a recent Monday evening at the new Central Library, DeLauro aired the comedy-drama “Hello, I Must Be Going,” starring Blythe Danner and Melanie Lynskey. DeLauro arrived couple of hours before the screening to set up the lights and sound.

“I’m still working to get the kinks out of the system,” DeLauro said.

At 6:15 p.m., he opened the door to the people waiting just outside. Between 45 and 60 people chose a seat in the new, grand auditorium. DeLauro said that the same amount of people showed up at the old Downtown library.

“In reality, the films that I screen appeal to a smaller niche,” DeLauro said. “These are not just entertainment-value movies for the popular masses. These films have a stimulating point of departure, often leaving the viewer with more questions than answers.”

DeLauro dimmed the lights in the Central Library auditorium and let the magic of the film begin.

For upcoming film screening information at the library, go to To get a calendar update for “Cinema Under the Stars,” go to


  1. Maria says:

    I have been to watch some of the Films, Mr DeLauro does a great job, thanks!!!!!

  2. Bill S says:

    I enjoy the films that Ralph picks. I go to the movies often and Ralph finds films I have never heard of and enjoy.

  3. Faye Girsh says:

    Ralph and Carol are to be commended for bringing quality films to this city buried in Hollywood releases. So glad to see your talents transferred to the beautiful new library where they belong. I wish you could grab some of the great films shown at the Palm Spring Int’l Film Festival. It is heartbreaking to see most of them disappear from the planet after the Festival.

  4. Sandi says:

    Thanks Ralph and Carol, for the wonderful service you both provide.

  5. Ralph and and his wife, Carol, supply a great community service!

    As the organizer of Discount Movies and Events, San Diego MeetUp, I try to bring my group to as many movies as my schedule permits!

    It is very refreshing to watch a film that is not so Hollywood Slick.

  6. Patty says:

    Hey Ralph, congrats on the great article!!!! WOW!! do I have some talented cousins. Wish you success in your
    continued endeavor.

  7. Dvora Rogoway says:

    Really enjoy the quality of the films you provide.

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