In 1997, filmmaker Mark Elijah founded Rooftop Films when he screened a series of short, avant-garde films from the roof of his East Village apartment building. For New Yorkers in search of independent and underground films showcased under the summer stars, Rooftop Films is considered an institution; in 2011, the organization hosted more than 30,000 people at 47 events. This year’s line-up includes shorts from Sundance, animated features, comedies, and documentaries, like The Chinese Mayor, which tells the story of Geng Yanbo, mayor of Datong, China. June 4–August 22; rooftopfilms.com.
Shanghai International Film Festival
Shanghai is one of the biggest film festivals in Asia—this year, it will make use of 1,200 screens—and has grown in prominence and prestige since its inception in 1993. Although it shows projects from around the world (108 countries submitted films this year), Shanghai chiefly celebrates Asian and Chinese filmmakers, giving out a special award for emerging Asian talent. Chinese stars like Gong Li (Memoirs of A Geisha), Fan Bingbing (X-Men), and others will appear on the red carpet. In anticipation of the latest Star Wars film's release in December, the Shanghai International Film Festival will screen the first six movies in the series (marking the first time that films one–three will be shown in China). June 13–21; siff.com.
Edinburgh International Film Festival
With more than 1,400 filmmakers, journalists, and industry reps in attendance, EIFF is an international force to be reckoned with. This 11-day Scottish event, founded in 1947, has played host to a number of prominent premieres in recent years, among them the debuts of award-winning flicks Frances Ha, The Hurt Locker, and Little Miss Sunshine. The festival screens animated films, shorts, documentaries, and movies from across the globe, and awards several prizes across those categories. This year’s event presents 164 films from 36 countries, including screenings of Pixar’s Inside Out and Maggie, a zombie film starring Arnold Schwarzenegger. Actor Ewan McGregor and Hong Kong director Johnnie To are among the luminaries making appearances on stage this year. June 17–28; edfilmfest.org.uk.
San Francisco International LGBT Film Festival
Since 1977, the San Francisco International LGBT Film Festival has showcased LGBT films and filmmakers on an international stage, while the Frameline Completion Fund helps filmmakers put the finishing touches on their works. This year’s offerings will include I Am Michael, the story of a gay rights advocate who renounced homosexuality, starring James Franco, and Out to Win, a documentary about LGBT athletes that features interviews with Jason Collins, Wade Davis, and Brittney Griner. The Bay Area festival has a regular attendance of more than 60,000 people. June 18-28; frameline.org.
Karlovy Vary International Film Festival
Considered one of the most important film festivals in central and eastern Europe, the Karlovy Vary festival in the Czech Republic was founded in 1946 in the picturesque spa town of Karlovy Vary, famous for its hot springs. The festival regularly screens as many as 200 films, most of them international premieres, with a special focus on projects from the Balkans, Greece, Turkey, and countries that constitute the former Soviet Union. An award for Outstanding Artistic Contribution to World Cinema is handed out each year to an actor, director, or filmmaker; past winners include Robert de Niro, Morgan Freeman, and Judi Dench. The festival is open both to members of the industry and the general public. July 3–11; kviff.com.
New Zealand International Film Festival
Auckland is the first stop for the New Zealand International Film Festival, which also hosts screenings throughout the summer in 11 other New Zealand towns. This year, several titles from Sundance will make their way to New Zealand, including The Diary of a Teenage Girl, with Kristin Wiig, and Grandma, starring Lily Tomlin. The New Zealand International Film Festival first united separate film events across the country in 2009; the Auckland iteration has attracted more than 100,000 people since 2005. July 16–August 2; nziff.co.nz.
Melbourne International Film Festival
Like its counterparts in Europe and China, the Melbourne International Film Festival places a special importance on celebrating local filmmakers; it's the largest platform for new Australian films, with a Premiere Fund that specifically supports Australian films and documentaries. Features on this year's docket also include projects from Taiwan, Germany, Italy, and Japan. A special retrospective will focus on the work of indigenous Australian actor and dancer David Gulpilil to coincide with the world premiere of his film Another Country, which will include screenings and an in-person discussion. Visitors this year will also have a chance to view several films on a giant vertical screen as part of a series called Vertical Cinema. The films chosen all take advantage of or highlight the screen’s unique alignment. July 30–August 16; miff.com.au.
Festival del Film Locarno
Filmmakers hoping to make a splash in Europe head to Locarno, a Swiss town located next to Lake Maggiore, where German, Italian, and French culture intersects. The Locarno film festival’s most iconic setting is the Piazza Grande, pictured above, where films screen to thousands of onlookers outdoors in the historic town square. Since its inception in 1946, the festival has hosted its share of stars and celebrities, Faye Dunaway and Harrison Ford among them. A full line-up has not yet been announced. August 5–15; pardolive.ch.
Sarajevo Film Festival
The Sarajevo Film Festival was founded in 1995 during the Bosnian War as the siege of Sarajevo came to an end, in the hopes of reviving the creative and cosmopolitan soul of the city. Like the Karlovy Vary festival, Sarajevo focuses on one region of southeastern Europe, celebrating films from Armenia, Croatia, Bulgaria, Romania, and Serbia, among others. The event also specializes in open-air screenings, in particular of art house films and movies with a bent toward music or pop culture. Since its beginnings in the crucible of war, the festival has grown rapidly in size: More than 100,000 people now regularly attend and recent iterations have seen visits by such high-profile directors and actors as Michael Moore and Brad Pitt. August 22–25; sff.ba.
Venice International Film Festival
The oldest film festival in the world (it was founded in 1932), the Venice Film Festival is also one of the most significant. Hosted as part of the Venice Biennale, the 11-day event is set on the city's Lido island, with screenings in historic theaters and venues nearby. An award for contemporary filmmakers, the “Jaeger-LeCoultre Glory to the Filmmaker” prize, is co-sponsored by the Swiss watchmaker and has been won in past years by Al Pacino, Spike Lee, and Agnes Varda. The festival’s full line-up will be announced in Rome this July. September 2–12; labiennale.org.
Image Credits: Rooftop Films; © Massimo Pedrazzini