After Sunset, Enjoy Outdoor Film Festivals

Get in touch with culture and nature by taking in summer movie screenings al fresco.
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Do you enjoy watching films, but don't want to waste a beautiful summer evening holed up in a packed movie theater for two hours?

Well, it is possible to combine your love of culture and nature -- at outdoor movie screenings.

It's high season to sprawl out, feel a gentle summer breeze against your face and let yourself be carried into the characters' lives on the big screen.

All summer long, films are being screened at parks, museums and other public spaces worldwide.

From New York City's

Bryant Park to the U.K.'s largest film festival in

Cambridge, England, there's most likely one not too far from your home. Most are even free, or at least cheaper than shelling out for a theater

ticket.

Under the Stars

The

Comcast Film Festival is taking place in Bethesda, Md., in mid-August, in conjunction with local art and culture institution Strathmore. The event is located just outside the Capital Beltway on a lush green lawn.

The lineup includes the classics

The Wizard of Oz

and

North by Northwest

as well as newer hits such as

Little Miss Sunshine

,

The Da Vinci Code

and

Casino Royale

.

All films are free, and the grounds open two hours before the movies start at 8:30 p.m. -- plenty of time to enjoy a dinner al fresco or catch up with old friends.

Bring your own picnic, or choose from on-site options such as fresh popcorn, pizza, salads, burgers, burritos and ice cream. This is encouraged, as a portion of the food sales will go to

Hopkins House, a nonprofit organization providing education and services to economically disadvantaged children and their families.

Classics in the City

Do you love the idea of gazing up at classic movies and a stunning city skyline? Then check out the

Chicago Outdoor Film Festival, now in its eighth year, which runs from July 17 to Aug. 28.

The high quality of this festival is what makes it stand out. "The movies are shown on 35 mm print.

Other movies are shown on DVD -- not every older film has a good 35 mm print," says Kathy Byrne, festival coordinator. This format gives the image an exceptionally crisp and vivid look.

Each Tuesday night at sunset (ranging from about 8 p.m. to 9 p.m.), catch free movies including

Young Frankenstein

,

Double Indemnity

,

Sweet Smell of Success

,

The Sound of Music

,

Written on the Word

and

Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid

. "We are trying to get back to pre-1980 movies," says Byrne.

Get there early, as this is a popular event, attracting as many as 40,000 people per screening, Byrne notes.

The festival is held in the central location of Grand Park, which is in the heart of downtown Chicago and right along Lake Shore Drive.

Taking public transportation or biking is encouraged to avoid congestion, and although no bikes are allowed into the screening area, there is a complimentary bike valet service.

In addition,

Charles Schwab

is sponsoring the screening of

The Sound of Music

for the first time this year, says Byrne -- Schwab clients will be treated to a swank, invitation-only party right on the grounds.

Sights and Sounds

If you love music and movies, then look to the Denver Film Society, which is sponsoring the

Films on the Rocks Series.

Here, in a breathtaking, naturally formed rock amphitheater, you can relish unparalleled acoustics with a live music performance as well as a movie.

This festival goes from the end of June to the end of July, and the lineup this year includes

Dazed and Confused

, accompanied by the band Coors New Sound Throwdown and Ash Ganley;

Pulp Fiction

with The Beloved Invaders; and

The Shining

with Douglas Cameron.

This event isn't free, but it's only $10 per ticket (available at King Soopers stores or

online).

Viewing Tips

Since you'll be there for a few hours, bring a blanket or a low beach chair (so you don't block others' views) or even a pillow -- it will be as cozy as your own living room, but with a much better screen.

Do arrive early to beat the inevitable crowds and to pick your ideal viewing spot. And be sure to check the festivals' Web sites before you head out, as many don't allow alcohol or pets.

Instead of being cooped up in a theater or on your couch, catch a movie outside this summer. You'll get to check out a favorite film, enjoy the fresh air and escape from reality for a few hours.

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