No less than 75 festivals will take place across the U.S. over the next four months in cities as big as New York and L.A. and as small as Long Beach Island, New Jersey (June’s Lighthouse Film Festival). Some of the most interesting and diverse programming takes place at the summer festivals, from documentaries to gay and lesbian, horror and new Asian films, with all of them being a movie lover’s dream. And if you live near a single one of them, you'd better go or you risk missing out on movies you may never have the opportunity to see on the big screen ever again.
The Big Three
The big fish in the summer festival pond is undoubtedly the L.A. Film Fest (June 13-23), which has been getting bigger and better every year. Located in L.A.’s revived downtown district, this year’s fest opens with the North American premiere of Pedro Almodovar’s I'm So Excited, starring Antonio Banderas and Penelope Cruz, opening June 28. The festival’s programming has yet to be announced, but the organizers have revealed that Silver Linings Playbook director David O. Russell will serve as this year’s guest director, while Maya Rudolph will offer a master class on her favorite comedies. This being L.A., they’re usually able to throw some Hollywood blockbusters into the mix, and the programming team often premieres several great indies and foreign films, such as last year’s fest darling The History of Future Folk.
NYC is a city that has no shortage of film festivals, and the biggest in the summer months is the New York Asian Film Festival, which runs out of NYC’s prestigious Lincoln Center June 28 to July 13. Easily one of the most fun film festivals around, NY Asian is the top Asian film festival in the U.S., giving its audiences many sights never before seen before or since, showcasing the top new Asian films from China, Japan, Hong Kong, South Korea, Thailand and Indonesia, many of which never play most other festivals. While it’s too early to know any of this year’s guests or programming, if such past guests as Donnie Yen (Ip Man), Choi Min Sik (Oldboy) and Sammo Hung (Dragons Forever) are any indication, expect some major Asian superstars and great Asian movies over the course of the two weeks.
But the best film festival every summer – and my vote for the best film festival in the world – is Montreal’s Fantasia Film Festival, taking place from July 19 to August 6. Fantasia is the largest genre film festival in North America (that’s right, bigger than Fantastic Fest), screening nearly 300 features and shorts from all over the world over the course of three weeks. The Montreal audiences are easily the most responsive and enthusiastic I’ve encountered at any film festival, and the programming cannot be beat, showcasing a wild and diverse selection of films that has brought me some of the best films I’ve ever seen. Fantasia has now upped the ante with their Frontiers Film Market (now in its second year), which brings international filmmakers together with financiers to help create the films that will play future Fantasia festivals.
Fests with a Social Conscience
Washington D.C.’s AFI Docs (formerly Silverdocs) is one of the country’s most prominent documentary film festivals, taking place June 19-23. Presented by the American Film Institute, AFI Docs offers one of the most unique settings for any festival, as documentary filmmakers and enthusiasts get to mix with the politicians whose policies are often the focus of the films. Meanwhile, the traveling Human Rights Watch Film Festival ends its 2013 edition with 10 days of films from June 13-23 at NYC’s Lincoln Center.
With June being Gay Pride Month, several gay-and-lesbian film festivals also take place, and four of the biggest happen during the summer months. Most prominent is San Francisco’s Frameline San Francisco International LGBT Film Festival (now in its 37th year), happening June 20-30 at the historic Castro Theater. NYC’s Newfest takes place July 27-31 at Lincoln Center, while L.A.’s acclaimed Outfest runs from July 11-21 and Philadelphia’s QFest overlaps from July 12-23. With gay rights one of the most discussed issues of the day, expect all of these fests to have plenty to say and tell some very compelling stories.
Thanks to inflatable screens and portable projectors, there’s no reason why summer movie fun needs to be confined to a movie theater. With drive-ins sadly no longer a part of the America moviegoing landscape, outdoor film screenings have taken their place for people’s choice for movie fun under the stars, and 2013 brings more outdoor movie series than ever before. And the best part? All of them are absolutely free.
New York City boasts no more than 10 (!) different outdoor-screening series, the most popular of which remains HBO’s Bryant Park Festival, which screens Hollywood classics on good old 35 mm every Monday night in midtown starting June 17. You gotta get there early to find a place to sit, but it’s usually worth it. Other NYC outdoor fests include Brooklyn’s popular Rooftop Films, which runs the latest indie films at various rooftops throughout Brooklyn (locations vary) and the Central Park Film Festival, which runs for a week each August (titles not yet announced).
One of the most fun outdoor fests is Philly’s The Awesome Fest, 10 weeks of free outdoor films and live music, launching June 14 with the Psychedelic Furs live in concert. The programming focuses mainly on '80s classics (with a retrospective of John Hughes hits this year) and new films, including V/H/S/2 and the hit SXSW VHS doc Rewind This! Sounds pretty awesome, indeed.
None of these have the annual Cinespia Cemetery Screenings topped for sheer creativity, however. Celebrating its 12th year, Cinespia screens classic films at the famed Hollywood Forever Cemetery (yes, a cemetery) on Saturday nights, making Cinespia the only fest that can rightfully boast to be the only film series that offers stars both above the viewer head and below their feet. A truly one-of-a-kind moviegoing experience, this year’s edition launches May 11 with The Third Man.