The Reeler


May 24, 2007

The Reeler's 2007 Guide to NYC Outdoor Cinema

An unofficial compendium of where to watch this summer

The setting after dark at Empire-Fulton Ferry State Park, home of the Movies With a View series (Photo: STV)

While the city races toward Memorial Day and the siren calls of air conditioners whir to life around most of the city's movie theaters, a certain breed of New York filmgoer nevertheless views summer as the chance to escape such cool venue confines and enjoy one of the dozens of outdoor screenings set for the months ahead. Last year, we here at The Reeler hit most of the outdoor cinema series in an attempt to parse the best and worst of what their purveyors had to offer; we discovered a rich variety of programs, genres, emphases and locales from which to view some swell titles for a fraction (or in some cases, none) of the cost of the rep house. Bring your own blanket, bottle and snacks (and a fan, if possible), and it's the next best thing to being at home. Actually, if you live anything like us, it is better than being at home.

So with the iconic Rooftop Films gang launching its 10th season next week and a number of other series falling into place behind them, The Reeler had a run through some of this year's outdoor fests and their respective screening schedules. (Where possible, the "skinny from '06" cites our discoveries from a year ago.) A few events, like Tropfest at Tribeca (Sept. 23) and the internationally flavored Outdoor Cinema at Socrates Sculpture Park (July-August) have yet to settle their programs, but we'll catch up with them eventually. For now, get out your calendars, shorts and picnic baskets, and see what there is to see:

--Bryant Park Film Festival

Cost: Free

When: June 18 - Aug. 20

The skinny from '06: "The ease and popularity of visiting Bryant Park means everyone goes there, and the place is packed well before sundown. There is no 'view' per se, unless you count people-watching, which can be wildly entertaining as the lawn fills up and latecomers futz about with blankets three times too big for the patch of dirt their tardiness entitles them to."

Season highlights: It's always tough to choose from this classic-minded program, but the surrounding buzz and bustle are least likely to compromise the effortless enjoyment of Annie Hall (6/18), Paper Moon (7/2), Casablanca (8/13).

More information:

--Celebrate Brooklyn
(Prospect Park Bandshell)

Cost: Suggested donation, $5

When: July 19 - Aug. 10

The skinny from '06:
The humidity stifled the projector and thus thwarted our scheduled review screening of Dracula, but an earlier screening featuring Yo La Tengo performing its soundtrack to the underwater films of Jean Painlevé drew a massive crowd and virtually unanimous praise. The screen is huge, so camping out on the lawn behind the general seating area works fine if you like to spread out. Sneak in your own drinks and food if you're so inclined; the concession lines are brutal.

Season highlights: There are only three screenings, all featuring musical performance with the screenings: Blackmail (7/19, with the Alloy Orchestra and Morley); Laurel and Hardy shorts (7/27, with the Millennial Territory Orchestra) and the Bollywood musical Hum Kisi Se Kum Nahin (8/10, preceded by "Bollywood Disco" by DJ Rehka)

More information:

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--Central Park Film Festival (Rumsey Playfield)

Cost: Free

Aug. 28 - Sept. 1

The skinny from '06: It followed our deadline, though the head-achingly eclectic programs generally drive as much appeal as the location: Last year's program featured Fatal Attraction, Godspell and Stuart Little back-to-back-to-back. Local moviegoers get to vote for the final film in the series, usually a safe, New York-centric crowd-pleaser.

Season highlights: To be determined; the schedule's not yet available.

More information:

--Movies With a View (Empire-Fulton Ferry State Park, Brooklyn)

Suggested donation, $3

July 5 - Aug. 23

The skinny from '06:
"A hill near the back of the lawn affords perhaps the best overall view of screen and skyline, but arrive early -- it fills up fast. You can rent essentially legless lawn chairs for $5 (plus a $5 deposit) from the Park Conservancy. Tip: If you can, set up camp behind the Conservancy's reserved seating near the front of the lawn. It's right on an aisle, and in the frequent instances when BBPC officials don't show up, you have clear sightlines to the screen. ... Light pollution from across the river is less than you might think, but the bridges' traffic (particularly the trains on the Manhattan Bridge) generates a stereophonic clamor that you never quite get used to."

Season highlights:
The Princess Bride (7/5), The Natural (8/16), West Side Story (8/23)

More information:

--River Flicks
(Hudson River Park, Manhattan)

: Free

July 11 - Aug. 24 (Wednesdays for grown-ups, Fridays for families)

An hour before showtime at the Bryant Park Film Festival (Photo: STV)

The skinny from '06: "Granted, the skyline belongs to Jersey City, but as they say in brothels: In the dark, all cats are gray. The Hudson also yields a little friendlier breeze than its cousin to the East. Or at least it did the nights I was there. ... The piers naturally possess a higher space premium, and when it fills up, don't count on leaving unless you can camp on the center emergency row or near the side walkways. That said, the artificial turf is reasonably comfy if you can claim it. Chairs are allowed, but don't be a dick: Set up to the sides or in the back. ... Sound is dodgy at best: The West Side Highway is a loud neighbor."

Season highlights:
The Matrix (7/25), Stripes (8/1), Babe (8/3), the annual season-ender Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (8/24)

More information:

River to River Festival (Elevated Acre, 55 Water St., Manhattan)

Cost: Free

When: Aug. 7 - 28

The skinny from '06: We missed it; it followed our deadline. But it was infamous among Belle and Sebastian fans who didn't like surprises (or Starbucks).

Season highlights: Only four films are programmed but they're benchmarks: The Fountainhead, Breakfast at Tiffany's, On the Waterfront and The Apartment.

More information:

--Rooftop Films (Venues throughout Brooklyn and Manhattan)

Cost: $8-$10

June 2 through the end of August; closing night to be determined

The skinny from '06: "(The tone is) international indie, with a heavy New York flavor. And not 'indie' as in 'eventually sells for $10 million at Sundance,' but rather 'made with distribution as an afterthought.' Founder Mark Rosenberg and partners Dan Nuxoll and Sarah Palmer possess keen and somewhat fearless eyes for short films in particular, unspooling rich programs like This is What We Mean... by ROMANCE and New York Non-Fiction every weekend alongside strong documentaries like Andrew Berends' When Adnan Comes Home and the wildly amusing Czech Dream. Live music precedes most shows."

The scene at Rooftop Films, opening its 10th season next week (Photo: Rooftoop Films)

Season highlights: So far, with only June locked in, you can't go wrong with the New York Non-Fiction program (6/15); Losers and Winners, which claimed the Best International Documentary Award at Toronto's Hot Docs festival, screens as well on June 23. The fabulous SXSW alum Fish Kill Flea is rumored to be slated for late July.

More information:

--Solar One Film Festival (Stuyvesant Cove Park, Manhattan)

Cost: Free

When: Aug. 15 - 27

The skinny from '06: Pledging itself to be "the city's 'greenest' motion picture showcase," Solar One featured the diverse likes of Darwin's Nightmare, Gimme Shelter and Soylent Green at its solar-powered outdoor theater in Stuyvesant Cove Park.

Season highlights: Dr. Strangelove (8/16), After Hours (8/17), What's Happening! The Beatles in the USA (8/26)

More information:

--Summerscreen (McCarren Park Pool, Brooklyn)

Cost: Suggested donation, $3

When: July 3 - Aug. 21

The skinny from '06: Even more outlandish is the live music selected to open the shows: "Koto with computer, lasers"? "Theremin & thrown voice"? It is like Broadway Danny Rose's client roster brought to life. ... Chairs are not only allowed but heartily encouraged for the pool, which is exactly the kind of hard, dirty, heat-radiating concrete basin you would expect to find at an empty city pool in Williamsburg. ... In theory, it should work for films, but between a screen too small for the venue, 35 millimeter projections too dark for the setting and the acoustically unfriendly concrete surroundings, the whole experience can be kind of unpleasant. Maybe it was just the 90-percent humidity getting me down. But I doubt it."

Season highlights:
Dazed and Confused (7/10), Repo Man (7/24), Purple Rain (8/21)

More information:

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