Cover Story: Festival fever

Summer film fests offer retro classics and edgy new fare

What could be more emblematic of idyll summer nights than the escapist pleasures from sun and stress offered by the movies? This summer, Atlanta covers every scopophilic pleasure: lowbrow grind-house fare, socially conscious documentaries and Hollywood A-list pictures that offer the movie version of the decadent summer beach read.

The summer of 2004 is already taking on a decidedly retro air, with a return to the golden days of blaxploitation in the Mario Van Peebles directed Baadasssss! (screening June 12 at the Atlanta Film Festival), a docudrama about his father Melvin's efforts to make the underground classic Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song. This year's festival features some promising documentaries on subjects as diverse as outsider artist Henry Darger and outsider journalist Hunter S. Thompson, the largest selection of foreign film ever before seen in the festival, and great revival fare including a free June 20 Rialto screening of All the President's Men.

Single-handedly resurrecting the drive-in's lowbrow charms, the definitive old-school summer movie destination is the Starlight Six Drive-In Theater's Mondo Movie nights, the perfect mix of outre programming and drive-in nostalgia. The Starlight lineup includes a sprinkling of blaxploitation (Shaft), old-school T&A (Supervixens) and, bien sur, Elvis (Viva Las Vegas, Jailhouse Rock). The drive-in season reaches a giddy crescendo with the Sept. 4-5 Drive Invasion, an orgy of movies, bands and the coolest lineup of guest stars going, including Harry Dean Stanton and Bruce Dern.

Turner Classic Movies' fifth annual Screen on the Green series offers its own al fresco cinema in a new location on the meadow behind Park Tavern. A campy/classic revival lineup is sexed up with some guest appearances, including the series opener Young Frankenstein with Cloris Leachman — the scowling Frau Blucher in Mel Brooks' dementedly silly 1974 horror spoof. And 37 years after they appeared as starry-eyed young lovers in Barefoot in the Park, ripened Hollywood heavyweights Jane Fonda and Robert Redford will also team up to introduce that 1967 Neil Simon comedy.