Tired of velvet seats and spilt popcorn? The UAE's al fresco cinemas offer a refreshing alternative to darkened rooms
Film fans in the UAE have much to look forward to this autumn. Abu Dhabi is gearing up for the Middle East International Film Festival (MEIFF) from October 8, and its hundreds of screenings from over 80 countries; Dubai Mall's 22-screen Reel Cinemas operation is now up and running, with its art-house screen, The Picturehouse, -expected to be opened before the end of the year, and post-Eid entertainment programmes are in full swing at several other of the country's movie spots. And now, with the weather finally beginning to cool down, the week before the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix will see the Corniche transformed into a giant open-air cinema. -Beanbags, popcorn and candyfloss will be deployed for Cinema by the Sea, which runs from October 22-24. Each night will feature a double bill of motoring movies, starting with Herbie Fully Loaded, featuring Lindsay Lohan, and Days of Thunder, which brought together Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman. The second day will feature Pixar's animated Cars and then Will Ferrell's Nascar-racing comedy Talladega Nights. Cinema by the Sea will close with the family classic Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and the vintage British crime caper The Italian Job. The open-air cinema is one of several events taking place on the newly opened Corniche in the run-up to the Grand Prix, including live music, art exhibitions and community projects. Organisers say it will be able to hold up to 30,000 people. For an evocative film experience, there are now plenty of balmy outdoors options. Recall that scene in Grease? Young couples sit in open-topped cars neatly lined up row by row, speakers hooked over the door, while watching the flickering screen in front of their windscreen and chewing on a hot dog. How superior to sitting in a musty, darkened room with sticky bits of popcorn rolling around at your feet and somebody unwrapping sweets in the row behind while the person next to you shrieks into their iPhone. Outdoor movie screens like these enjoyed their heyday in the 1950s. In America, there were over 5,000 screens across the country then, a number which has now dwindled to 383, according to the United Drive-In Theatre Owners Association. But in recent years, the more communal, outdoor cinema experience has revived itself as a summer phenomenon across the world. In London, Somerset House just wrapped up its fifth popular summer series of outdoor film throughout August. Across the Thames on the South Bank, films were projected on to the tower of the National Theatre, physically enmeshing themselves as part of the cultural fabric of the city. Tilda Swinton and a volunteer team spent part of August hauling a mobile cinema around Scotland in a great, participatory cinema experiment. "Cinema is for everybody and for everywhere," she told the BBC. In Sydney, the St George Open Air Cinema regularly plays host to thousands of filmgoers against a backdrop of the harbour and tickets for screenings of films sell out within hours. In Paris, an abundance of outdoor film festivals, including the Clair de Lune event which shows films at the locations that they were shot, delight cinephiles, and last month New York's Central Park held a free five-day series of films. Given that sunshine is something that the UAE has in abundance, there are not only outdoor cinema screens here but some which come with the added bonus of a swimming pool to float about in while watching. At Dubai Polo and Equestrian Club, Cine-Splash takes place every Thursday and Friday night, a weekly ritual that started at the club in June. Attendees are offered inflatable chairs, or if they so wish, they can bring their own. Family-friendly screenings kick off from 7.30pm, those for more mature viewers from 9.30pm. Up this week are films such as Robots, The Bourne Identity and Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels. "Thursdays are generally more popular than Fridays, because Fridays are more of a family day," explains Ershad Ahmed, a manager at the club. "So to avoid fighting for a sunbed it's better to book." The Desert Palm offers a similar deal with Movies and Munchies every Wednesday night. The "munchies" part of the cinema-going experience is provided by a barbecue, although it is possibly not advisable to take -marinated chicken wings into the pool with you. Again, one can hop on to an inflatable chair and watch away, with the happy bonus that a bowl of popcorn and towel is included in the entrance fee of Dh30 per person. The running format is similar here too, with child-friendly flicks on at 7pm and those for the more mature viewer being screened at 9pm. Quentin Tarantino has been well represented recently with the screening of Kill Bill: Vol 1 and next week's showing of Pulp Fiction. Meanwhile, children can splash through options such as Monsters Inc on Wednesday, or Flushed Away one week later. The choice of films at such communal, outdoor events is often a delicate one. Ershad Ahmed says that Dubai Polo Club has a bit of everything to keep the punters happy. "Bridget Jones's Diary, Gladiator, Four Weddings and a Funeral, it's a mix," he says. And, he adds, one of the -bonuses to the great outdoors, as far as cinema viewing goes, is the relaxed nature, with families and groups of friends happily milling around together. "We do tell people to turn their phones off, but if they go off it doesn't matter," he adds. For those who prefer to remain undisturbed by swimming pools and barbecues, a more traditional experience can be found at the Madinat Theatre. Monday Movie Nights there are held in conjunction with Turner Classic Movies (TCM). This week's screening is of the Marx Brothers' A Night At The Opera; following that is The Philadelphia Story starring Cary Grant and Katherine Hepburn. Alternatively, the Ritz-Carlton is shortly to restart its themed-cinema evenings, also in partnership with TCM. Held in the hotel's La Baie restaurant, proceedings kick off on -October 7 with a month of thrillers. First in the series is Point Blank, starring Lee Marvin and Angie Dickinson. "We wanted to create an opportunity for people to live their nostalgia with these old-time legends," said Alan Musa, the vice-president of Turner Broadcasting. So dress up in your finest because the evening is tailor-made to the film and the chefs create an accompanying menu. Point Blank was released in 1967, so look out for Steak Diane, coronation chicken or cheese and pineapple cubes stuck into a melon. Dubai's artsy members' club -Shelter and art-house cinema venue The Scene Club are two other venues that should be on the radar for film fans. Shelter regularly holds themed film months. June saw a run of Lebanese films, July was given over to Italian classics. Similarly highbrow fare is screened at The Scene Club, founded in 2007 as Dubai's first official film club and run under the patronage of the Dubai International Film Festival. Autumn's screenings and programmes for both are still under wraps, but will shortly be announced.