Sunset rooftop screenings on tap as Rooftop Cinema Club launches in San Diego


“Like father, like son” is an expression often used to explain the similarities between generations.

For Gerry Cottle Jr., the comparison makes him think of popcorn, the fragrant, buttery concession stand staple that draws us into circus tents and cinema events.

“Dad and I often joke about how he owned a circus and sold popcorn and now I have a global cinema business selling popcorn,” said Cottle, who left his circus life to launch the Rooftop Cinema Club, premiering next week at the Manchester Grand Hyatt San Diego.

“You may have seen cinema in a park, but I wanted to do something in an urban environment with more panache, so we started on a rooftop.”

The Rooftop Cinema Club (RCC) began in London in 2011 and has since branched out to Miami, Los Angeles and New York.

The San Diego launch will start April 12 with sunset screenings of films associated with local destinations, such as Billy Wilder’s classic Prohibition-era comedy “Some Like It Hot,” filmed in Coronado and starring Marilyn Monroe.

“Top Gun,” shot at numerous San Diego locations, screens on April 13, and the comedy “Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy,” featuring Will Ferrell as a fictional San Diego news anchor during the 1970s, screens on April 14.

Later in the season, screenings will include Oscar-winning films such as “Dunkirk,” “The Shape of Water” and “Three BillBoards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.”

Guests can sit in director’s chairs (blankets are available for chilly nights), take selfies with a city backdrop and experience a downtown vibe that includes street food, cocktails and craft beers at the Rooftop Concession Stand.

Manchester Grand Hyatt’s on-site dining options also include the Top of the Hyatt lounge or Sally’s Fish House & Bar on the waterfront.

The idea for staging rooftop screenings was born of frustration, a passion for movies and a unique life experience.

Cottle grew up in a circus family. His father toured Britain with multiple shows and presented the Moscow State Circus and Chinese State Circus.

At the age of 5, Cottle remembers running out of a safe wearing a police costume. As a teenager, he mastered juggling and aerial arts and followed in the footsteps of his clown mentor and late uncle, Sonny Fossett, who taught him a comedy car routine that involved driving a T-Model Ford with wheels that fell off.

Cottle worked weekends and nights around his school schedule during his youth, and later, he became skilled at utilizing all the details that draw and entertain a diverse crowd.

“I was a clown for many years, and I was lucky to have a good education,” said Cottle, now 36.

“I did public relations and marketing, events in London and with Moscow Circus. But towards the end of my 20s, I didn’t want to work for anyone else. When I first started, I just wanted to combine my love of film with my love of staging events. I saw this unique space and I started sharing my passion.”

Attending a Rooftop Cinema Club event is different in that it’s adults only and the urban setting offers unique amenities that don’t compete with the film.

The component that keeps the movie “the star of the show” was a lucky accident, one in which “a crisis became an opportunity.”

In 2011, Cottle searched for locations to screen a film and got the chance to stage a showing of “Stand By Me” on the rooftop terrace of the Queen of Hoxton bar in London.

Just before the event, the owners of the building raised an objection to amplified sound.

“I thought, ‘Oh God, what do I do?” Cottle recalled.

“I came up with the solution to use headphones. The first night, I wondered if anyone would turn up.”

Cottle distributed wireless headphones to his movie audience, which made the outdoor rooftop experience ideal.

“It was packed,” Cottle remembered.

“Everyone told me, ‘It was amazing and the guy next to me didn’t disturb me.’ The magic is headphones, so when the film starts, we don’t disturb the neighbors and the audience can get immersed in the film because it blocks out the noise.”

Cottle said that RCC is careful to choose a location that works best for an urban film experience — offering the advantages of a starlit ceiling, city views and nearby attractions.

He learned to deliver the highest standards from his dad.

“My father was adamant that any show he put out on the road was quality,” he said.

“When I started the rooftop, I was not just going to do a pop-up cinema — it was not about getting away with rubbish. I made sure the experience was top-notch. That has served me well because people will come back to enjoy it.”

Rooftop Cinema Club

When: Doors open at 6:30 p.m., movies begin at 7:30 p.m. starting April 12

Where: Manchester Grand Hyatt San Diego, One Market Place, downtown, on top of the parking structure adjacent to the hotel, on the rooftop sport courts

Tickets: $17 single deck-chair; $20, single deck-chair and bottomless popcorn, $24, double love-seat with bottomless popcorn.


Ages 18 and older. Rooftop Cinema Club is dark on Sundays and Mondays.

Twitter: @outdoorlivingsd