The Best of the Fests

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Your Downtown for 2012

New York City is teeming with cultural offerings, so much so that it can be difficult at times to organize all of the things you want to do, see, taste and experience in Manhattan. Sometimes you might stumble upon a great street fair with a particularly good gyro, while at other times you’ll plan and plot out your visit to a fest like the Tribeca Film Festival or DOC NYC.

Before embarking on your new year of festival-going in Downtown, use this guide to discover the best offerings—from food to science to performance—on this side of the city.

—COMPILED BY

Leighton Meester by David Shankbone

Leighton Meester attends the Tribeca Film Festival


SPRING

Tribeca Film Festival (April 18–29)
The little fest that could, the Tribeca Film Festival has morphed from a means to draw crowds and tourists back to Downtown Manhattan after 9/11 into a sprawling, major destination film festival. In addition to the festival is the year-round nonprofit organization Tribeca Film Institute, ready and willing to aid struggling filmmakers. This year marks the 10th anniversary of programming (and parties!), and the fest promises its usual eclectic array of indies and Hollywood star power, not least of which is festival founder Robert De Niro—all bigger and better than ever before.

World Science Festival (May 30–June 3)
With a board as diverse as actor Alan Alda and Elegant Universe author and physics professor Brian Greene, the World Science Festival is where science is not only accessible but fun. Started in 2008 as part of the Science Festival Foundation, events have ranged from a staged reading of Alda’s latest theater offering, Radiance: The Passion of Marie Curie, with Maggie Gyllenhaal, to live music with the lecture “Biorhythm: Music and the Body.” The World Science Festival is especially known for offering a roster of children’s programs, like a ride around the Hudson River on the schooner Mystic Whaler or the Youth and Family Street Fair, in which Washington Square Park became a science wonderland complete with a smell and discovery lab.

River to River Festival


SUMMER

Summerstage (June–August)
While this festival of dance, music and performance runs throughout the summer in all five boroughs, with its mainstage in Central Park, last year, Summerstage set up its Downtown Manhattan camp at East River Park on the Lower East Side and Tompkins Square Park in the East Village. Highlights at these sites from 2011 included a production of Henry V produced by the Classical Theatre of Harlem and the Charlie Parker Jazz Festival, featuring notables like Madeleine Peyroux and the Archie Shepp Quartet. And the best part of the fest? It is the largest free performance arts festival in New York.

New York City Pridefest (June 24)
For one Sunday in June, the West Village shuts down for a parade of GLBT advocates and showoffs marching down Seventh Avenue to cheers and catcalls from the sidewalks. In addition to the parade, Hudson Street between Abingdon Square and 14th Street hosts Pridefest, an annual street fair that brings together New Yorkers and out-of-town visitors with the promise of street food, T-shirts and everything else a street fair can offer—but far more fabulous. Funnel cake always tastes better when it’s been sprinkled with tolerance and glitter, and Pridefest has been serving heaping helpings of both for the last 19 years.

River to River Festival
Lower Manhattan’s largest free festival, presented by the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council in partnership with Arts World Financial Center, The Seaport and Battery Park City Authority, River to River is an all-encompassing event that includes film, art, dance and just about any other artistic medium you can imagine. Launched in 2002, this year marks a full decade of events from the East River to the Hudson, a decade that has seen performances from the likes of Patti Smith, Elizabeth Streb’s dance company and poet Ann Lauterbach paying homage to artist Sol LeWitt. This year promises just as many stellar offerings—not to mention a lower profile than many of the summer’s other festivals.

CMJ


FALL

Tang’s Natural NYC Dumpling Festival (September)
From pierogi to potstickers, this annual festival celebrates all things dumplings. The event, held last year at Sara D. Roosevelt Park on the Lower East Side, appeals to foodies looking to chow down on offerings from Italy, China, Malaysia and Poland, to name a few, and to voyeurs looking to check out the Guinness World Record-setting dumpling-eating contests. Joe Menchetti nabbed first place last year in the men’s category of the eighth annual Chef One Dumpling Eating Contest for scarfing down a record-setting 69 dumplings in two minutes. In the women’s division, Floria Lee was back for her sixth win, earned by chowing down 37 dumplings in the same time frame. Fill up on the tiny delicacies guilt-free, as profits from the event and food sales benefit the Food Bank for New York City.

NYC Apple Day Festival (September)
While one might assume this fest is centered on candied apples, pies and ciders, the fest started by Lower East Side Business Improvement District President Mark Miller in 2008 also celebrates the neighborhood’s roots in this fall fruit. According to the BID, the LES in the 1700s was almost exclusively an apple orchard owned by farmer James De Lancey Sr., and it is this past that gave Orchard Street its name. Last year, the event included a pie-eating competition with a grand prize of $500 in addition to upstate apple growers selling their wares and local restaurants offering apple-centric dishes.

Feast of San Gennaro (Sept. 13–23)
Every September for the last 86 years has found tourists and Downtown denizens alike stuffed to the gills at Little Italy’s Feast of San Gennaro, an all-you-can eat offering. In addition to the food, there are live music, cooking demonstrations and eating competitions (instead of hot dogs, there are cannolis!), parades and processions for the festival’s 11-day duration. The whole event is still a homey affair, suffused with a block party vibe that even the masses of tourists can’t dispel. All of New York City comes out for the Feast of San Gennaro—if you haven’t been yet, you may not be a real New Yorker!

CMJ 2012 Music & Film Festival (Oct. 16–20)
For five days and nights, CMJ’s more-marathon-than-festival plays host to over 1,300 performances and dozens of film screenings in 80-plus venues. CMJ has been known to consume serious music fans who buy passes and spend the five days at seminars, panels, parties, premieres and mixers. Despite its huge scale, CMJ is still insular enough to feel like a college campus—its headquarters are actually located at NYU. For a little less than a week, you can once again enjoy the feeling of living to hear the hottest undiscovered bands play. Badges are now available at an early registration discount until Jan. 23, so don’t wait!


WINTER

DOC NYC (November)
DOC NYC—a documentary-based film festival operating out of the IFC Center and NYU’s Kimmel Center—has built a reputation for attracting big names and even bigger films. The over 200 special guests who attended the festival last year included documentary film visionaries like D.A. Pennebaker and Barbara Kopple and more mainstream figures like Russell Simmons, Charlotte Rampling and Joe Frazier. Only in its second year in 2011, the fest opened with Werner Herzog’s Into the Abyss and included screenings of popular films from last year like Buck, Project Nim and Page One: Inside the New York Times. For any lover of nonfiction filmmaking, DOC NYC is a jackpot.

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