Summer movies: Fest faves from Alabama sidewalks to Brooklyn rooftops, with stops at AFI and old-time drive-ins. (Hattie Newman)

For movie fans, summer can only mean one thing: big, loud spectacles.

Unless it means their annual Woody Allen fix.

Or a charming, out-of-nowhere Sundance hit.

Thanks to the joys of counterprogramming, summer isn’t dominated by just one kind of film anymore, as our annual listing confirms. In addition to the films themselves, summer in the Washington area and beyond means the return of venues that have become cherished refuges during the torrid cinematic season.


Founded 12 years ago in Silver Spring, AFI Docs (formerly known as Silverdocs) has since migrated into downtown Washington and expanded its reach with local influencers, connecting issue-oriented nonfiction filmmakers with interested parties in Congress, NGOs and even the White House. But for filmgoers, it’s all about the program. This year’s includes the wonderful opening-night film, “Best of Enemies,” about the intellectual rivalry between William F. Buckley and Gore Vidal; a tribute to director Stanley Nelson; and “In Transit,” the final film of groundbreaking vérité artist Albert Maysles.

From the film “The Best of Enemies.” (Courtesy of Magnolia Pictures)

AFI Docs June 17-21 at AFI Silver Theatre and Cultural Center, 8633 Colesville Rd., Silver Spring, and venues around Penn Quarter. 301-495-6720.

For the past year, during the $30 million renovation of the National Gallery of Art’s East Building, the wing’s 500-seat auditorium — one of the best places in Washington to catch important new and repertory films — has been shuttered. But while the galleries will remain closed, the East Building Auditorium is reopening Aug. 1 with a program of films by Albert and David Maysles, including “Grey Gardens,” “Salesman” and “Gimme Shelter.”

National Gallery of Art East Building Auditorium Fourth Street and Pennsylvania Avenue NW. 202-842-6799.

By the time summer winds down this year, filmgoers will have been bludgeoned by all manner of Avengers, Mad Maxes, Terminators and Jurassic-sized creatures. What better relief than DC Shorts, an insightfully curated series of short films that arrives just after Labor Day like a soothing autumn breeze? Funny, moving, brilliantly economical and inventive, short-form movies are just what we need after a season of overkill at the multiplex.

DC Shorts Sept. 10-20 at venues throughout Washington.


Even the sniffiest film snobs love a good, old-fashioned popcorn movie — especially when it’s shown at a good, old-fashioned drive-in theater. To local filmgoers’ everlasting good fortune, a few drive-ins still exist in the area, including Baltimore’s Bengies, a slew of Virginia theaters that have been in business since the 1950s, and two relative newcomers, the Goochland and Mayberry. Put the top down and bring on the summer spectacles, the schlockier the better.

Virginia’s Drive-Ins

The Bengies 3417 Eastern Blvd., Baltimore. 410-687-5627.

Where are the women? Between issues of representation and compensation, it’s a question that has dogged Hollywood this year. For the answer, look east, specifically Portland, Maine, where for five years the Bluestocking Film Series has exclusively programmed films that ace the Bechdel Test: 1) Does the film feature two or more named female characters? 2) Do they talk to each other . . . 3) . . . About something other than men? This year’s offerings come from as far afield as Turkey, Australia and Pakistan.

Bluestocking Film Series July 17-18 at Space Gallery, 538 Congress St., Portland, Maine. Admission: $12 daily.

If you’re heading northward and still want to feel the breeze in your hair, check out Rooftop Films, a Brooklyn series that began 19 years ago and has presented movie screenings in commercial green spaces, factories, rooftops and other unexpected places throughout New York. Billing itself as “underground movies outdoors,” Rooftop’s program is curated with an eye toward alternative, undiscovered work, and has become a proving ground for the likes of Lena Dunham (“Tiny Furniture”) and Benh Zeitlin (“Beasts of the Southern Wild”). This year, Rooftop will present films by Sean Baker and Joe Swanberg, as well as an evening with filmmaker Khalik Allah (“Field Niggas”), who recently galvanized audiences at Missouri’s True/False festival and the Maryland Film Festival.

Rooftop Films Through Aug. 22 at venues throughout Queens, Manhattan and Brooklyn. 718-417-7362.

Let’s just say it’s August and you find yourself in Alabama. You’re cranky, you’re sweating through your clothes and you’ve tried every barbecue joint between Decatur and Mobile. Well, stop complaining and get your tired rear end to Birmingham! For the past 17 years, the city has played host to the Sidewalk Film Festival, founded by the Alabama Moving Image Association to showcase bold, independent filmmaking and beloved by locals and visitors alike for its shrewd programming and fun, laid-back vibe. Y’all should go!

Sidewalk Film Festival Aug. 28-30 in Birmingham’s downtown theater district. 205-324-0888.


Summer arts: For a rainy-day plan, Caillebotte at National Gallery

Summer exhibits: American history and other opportunities

Summer classical music: A season of fine festivals

Summer pop music: Finding the beat in Washington and around the U.S.

Summer dance: Escape the heat with gravity-defying dancers

Summer theater: Five opportunities to see something special