With summer in full swing, it’s time for another Ann Arbor Summer Festival (A2SF). In its 34th season, the festival is back with a quality slate of programs that include live music, art exhibitions, wellness events, local cuisine and outdoor film screenings. With the city of Ann Arbor as the backdrop, there is something for everyone to enjoy. 

With so much to do at the festival, which runs through the 4th of July weekend, it may seem overwhelming to choose what to see. One of the highlights each summer is undoubtedly the outdoor film screenings— there’s something special about the tradition of watching a movie while sitting on a blanket as the sun sets.

Plus, the movies are shown for free on a huge, inflatable screen in the middle of the wonderful and spacious University of Michigan campus.

“(The outdoor screenings) are idyllic,” says Amy Nesbitt, Executive and Artistic Director of the festival. “There are fireflies out, and we’ve got local food vendors around. That kind of environment doesn’t typically happen in U of M’s campus space at any other time. It’s such a chill way to watch a movie,” she says. 

movies2Photo courtesy of Ann Arbor Summer Festival © Myra Klarman Photography.comThis year, the Ann Arbor Summer Festival’s movie lineup is a perfect blend of old and new. There are classic comedies such as Good Morning Vietnam (June 21), Groundhog Day (June 13), Say Anything (June 22) and Men in Black (June 27). Contemporary installments of timeless film franchises Star Wars: The Force Awakens (June 28) and Ghostbusters—Answer the Call (June 15) will also be shown. Finally, festival attendees will have the opportunity to see critically-acclaimed films such as La La Land (July 2) and Hidden Figures (June 20). 

Parents can introduce their children to classic performances from Gene Wilder in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (June 18), or one of Robin Williams’ most enduring roles with Good Morning Vietnam. On the flip side, kids can bring their parents to a late-night viewing of the animated Secret Life of Pets (June 25) or the live-action Dr. Strange (June 14) starring Benedict Cumberbatch. With all the movie options, the festival truly has a mix of movies that anyone can appreciate in a safe, family-friendly environment taking place at 10pm just as the sun goes down during these early summer nights.

Planning for the festival takes a full year and is heavily reliant on the public’s input. “Every year, we ask the community to weigh in,” says Nesbitt. “It’s not a popularity contest, but (community input) will often swing some of our program choices in terms of the musical talent we work with as well as the films.” 

The cost of booking musicians, renting the venues around campus and securing the rights to screen a movie is also a crucial factor in scheduling the festival’s program. There is a lot of fundraising that happens, especially because the majority of the events are presented free of charge. A2SF, which is an independent nonprofit, gets a small percentage of financial support from grant funding and the city of Ann Arbor, but the majority of the budget comes from fundraising. 

“People are totally blown away when they realize that we do all our own fundraising,” Nesbitt says emphatically. Securing the rights for blockbusters such as Star Wars: The Force Awakens or Hidden Figures isn’t cheap, but festival organizers know how important it is to present quality entertainment without charging the public. With free events, more people are able to come out and enjoy the city of Ann Arbor while catching a new band or watching a movie under the night sky. 

“For me, being in an environment where people are discovering is super rewarding,” says Nesbitt enthusiastically. “Of course people have seen Willy Wonka before, but to see it in that environment, where kids have blankets out and are getting purple tongues from eating snow-cones, is just such a different experience than watching it at home.” 

The Ann Arbor Summer Festival takes place at venues throughout downtown Ann Arbor. For more information, click here.

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