Lights, Camera, Travel: Experience The World Through Film Festivals

Opening Night Screening, 2008 Maui Film Festival. (Photo by Randall Michelson/WireImage)

Opening Night Screening, 2008 Maui Film Festival. (Photo by Randall Michelson/WireImage)

When the topic turns to film, fans always have opinions about best actors, directors and screenplays, but one category always stands out in our minds: best location.  There is something about great films and great locations that always seem to go hand-in-hand. Think of all the films you’ve enjoyed where the scenery, people and places played a central role.  From “Out of Africa” to “Darjeeling Limited,” many films are inextricably linked to a definite sense of place and time. The only thing missing has been you. Film festivals change all that, by allowing you to play a central role in your own story by experiencing films, parties, seminars and related events while simultaneously enjoying a new destination.

Fortunately, film festivals are found in some of the world’s most desirable locations. So whether its viewing films under the stars in Maui, in between sips of Pinot Noir in Napa or in idyllic locales like the South of France, A-list locations and film fests co-star around the globe.

And contrary to popular belief, film festivals are not just for industry insiders and celebrities (some, like Cannes, are definitely industry affairs, but other festivals, such as Expresion en Corto, are free to the public). For attendees, this translates into an added bonus of getting a privileged first-look at everything from epic blockbusters to quirky gems that might never make it to the multiplex, combined with the chance to rub shoulders with celebrities such as Quentin Tarantino and Bono in Maui or Berlin.

Here then are a few wandermelon favorites.  Far from a comprehensive list, this is just a preview of traveler-friendly festivals gleaned from near and far that represent the ever-increasing abundance of fine festivals around the world:

Edinburgh Film Festival
Location: Edinburgh, Scotland
Dates: June 17-28, 2009
Why Go: Edinburgh is a rising star in its own right and UK films rock.
Where to Stay: Tigerlily
Logline: Edinburgh gets special props for being the longest continually-running film festival in the world (63 years).  Beyond that, this is one to put on your list as Edinburgh is rapidly becoming a must-see city, thanks to its burgeoning design scene and other cultural attractions. The EIFF features a full slate of films including features, documentaries, shorts, animated fare and music videos.  Compelling categories and awards make the fest a winner, including the Michael Powell Award for best new British film, Trailblazers (new UK filmmaking talent), and genres we love like “Black Box” (abstract films), “Mirrorball” (music videos), and “Night Moves” (horror).  More good news is the festival recently initiated a discount EIFF Saver Deal on advance tickets.

Expression en Corto International Film Festival
Location: Guanajuato and San Miguel de Allende, Mexico
Dates:  July 24 – August 2, 2009
Why Go: An evocative setting in two of Mexico’s colonial gems paired with innovative films from prominent independent filmmakers. Andale!
Where to Stay: Quinta Las Acacias
Logline:  For over ten years, the Expresion en Corto International Film Festival, Mexico’s largest competitive film festival and one of the most prestigious in Latin America, has created an imaginative showcase for primarily short films and documentaries (“cortos”). Categories include country showcases (last year was India), Midnight Madness and Women in Film & TV, but it’s the screening locations that really star here. Screening sites include San Miguel de Allende’s main square; subterranean streets and tunnels beneath the city of Guanajuato; and perhaps most famously, horror films in Guanajuato’s infamous Museum of the Mummies. Besides monuments and mummies, yet another plus is that as a state-sponsored event, admission is free to all films.

Maui Film Festival
Location: Maui, Hawaii
Dates: June 17-21, 2009
Where to Stay:   Four Seasons Resort Wailea
Why Go: You really have to ask? World premieres under starry Hawaiian skies.
Logline: Like a film loaded with A-list talent, The Maui Film Festival has so much going for it, it almost seems a little unfair. First, there is the location, Maui’s lush Wailea area, which is reason enough on its own to attend. Then, add the slate of noteworthy films that have had their world premieres here, including “Whale Rider,” “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” and “Garden State,” and you get a pretty sweet double feature. And since Maui is essentially “Hollywood West,” where multiple stars and studio folk have second homes, you’re almost guaranteed some celeb sightings during the fest. But for our money, the most spectacular stars you’ll see are the constellations painted across the night sky as you take in a film during the festival’s “Celestial Cinema” screenings which take place on the Wailea Golf Course. Sort of like being in the ultimate Hawaiian drive-in, seeing a film inside the four walls of a theater will seem like the cheap seats after this experience under the stars.

Napa Sonoma Wine Country Film Festival
Location: Napa, California
Dates: September 17-27, 2009
Where to Stay Vintage Inn
Why Go: Because sipping a vintage Pinot while taking in independent and foreign cinema sounds like quite the pairing to us.
Logline: Promoting sybaritic cinema for over twenty years, these people know how to do it right. Despite the glam cachet of the location and participation of major vintners (the year we went it was held on the grounds of Sterling Winery; this year’s host is Black Stallion Winery), The Napa Sonoma Wine Country Film Festival has the feeling of a laid-back, wine-tinted picnic where films happen to be on the agenda. And good films at that. Film fare tends to be small, independent productions from around the world (last year’s screenings included “Bliss” from Turkey and “All In This Tea” by noted American documentary filmmaker Les Blank).  Categories such as Latin Cinema and The Arts In Film always produce some gems, but as the lights go down at an al fresco screening, what clearly sets this festival apart is having that Pinot at hand instead of a bag of popcorn.

Tribeca Film Festival
Location: New York
Dates: Late April, 2010
Why Go: Manhattan, movies, and virtually all the filmmakers are in attendance. Whaddya kiddin?!
Where to Stay: Tribeca Grand Hotel
LoglineThe Tribeca Film Festival celebrates New York’s vitality as an international filmmaking center and provides a cultural nexus for the local creative community during the festival’s 12-day run.  Founded in 2002 by Robert De Niro, Jane Rosenthal and Craig Hatkoff in response to the 911 attacks, the festival was originally conceived to help Lower Manhattan rebound and provide a new source of inspiration and revenue. The festival is an indelibly “Manhattan” affair, with personalities such as Spike Lee, Richard Gere and Martin Scorsese making the rounds.  This year, the festival screened over 100 features and shorts — most of them world premieres — to capacity crowds, so advanced ticketing is highly recommended. And since New York loves a party, the festival also sponsors popular events including the ESPN Sports Day and Tribeca Family Festival Street Fair.
More film festivals worth the trip:

Berlin International Film Festival
One of the most important film festivals in the world in one of our favorite cities.

MountainFilm in Telluride
The focus here is on the environment, travel and topics related to the mountain lifestyle, such as Tibetan culture and extreme sports.

Toronto International Film Festival
Loaded with premieres, a world-class festival that draws industry elites.

Whistler Film Festival
Get your schuss on in one of North America’s hottest destinations while seeing premieres and new indie talent.

X-Dance Action Sports Film Festival (Park City, Utah)
Action sports filmmakers and iconic athletes from around the globe make the trek to Utah to show their latest cinematic gems. Runs in tandem with the Sundance Film Festival.

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