Summer and Cinema in the City: Open-Air Movies in Paris

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Summer and Cinema in the City: Open-Air Movies in Paris
The movies don’t take the summer off (except for the Cinémathèque Française, in August, like so many of the French). Summer is a time for light popcorn fare, and in Paris a special way of watching film: outdoors. The cinema en plein air, or open-air cinema, has become a tradition here. Viewing a film becomes a different aesthetic experience when the images are set against the backdrop of the stars and the occasional plane. Even the sound reverberates differently, more alive but with dreamy distortion (this was more true in the analog days). It’s also a different social experience, more informal and convivial, with more families, eating and drinking, people flopped down on lawn chairs or blankets. I first became acquainted with outdoor cinema not in France but in Greece, where the hot temperatures led theater owners to use their flat rooftops as screening rooms. Beginning in 1900, this may actually have been the start of open-air cinema in Europe (quite fitting, as ancient Greek theater was also outdoors). In America’s car culture, open-air cinema took the form of the drive-in, which started in 1933, and was popular from the 1950s to the 1970s. The temporary summer open-air cinema took off in the 1980s, with the development of inflatable screens that were easy to put up and then take down. The later development of digital projectors and state-of-the-art audio also made the open-air experience more viable. First drive-in theater, Pennsauken, New Jersey, 1933 from Wikimedia Commons The most famous venue for Parisian open-air cinema is at the Parc de La Villette, the former site of Paris’ stockyards which became one of François Mitterrand’s “Grands Projets” in the 1980s. One of the buildings in the park is devoted to cinema — the Geode, which specializes in IMAX-type formats. But in the summer it’s the grassy grounds that draw crowds for summertime movie entertainment projected onto a 600 square meter inflatable screen. This year will be the 33d edition of the Festival du Cinéma en plein air. Cinema en Plein Air/ courtesy of Parc de la Villette
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Lead photo credit : Image from Shutterstock

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Dimitri Keramitas was born and raised in Connecticut, USA, and was educated at the University of Hartford, Sorbonne, and the University of London, and holds degrees in literature and law. He has lived in Paris for years, and directs a training company and translation agency. In addition, he has worked as a film critic for both print and on-line publications, including Bonjour Paris and France Today. He is a contributing editor to Movies in American History. In addition he is an award-winning writer of fiction, whose stories have been published in many literary journals. He is the director of the creative writing program at WICE, a Paris-based organization. He is also a director at the Paris Alumni Network, an organization linking together several hundred professionals, and is the editor of its newletter. The father of two children, Dimitri not only enjoys Paris living but returning to the US regularly and traveling in Europe and elsewhere.