Imagine sitting beneath a star-strewn sky on a balmy summer evening, listening to a bit of Puccini or Pink Floyd. Or perhaps Sibelius. Or Sinatra. That’s the Rathaus Film Festival…
- Evening showings of operas, concerts, and gigs on a giant screen
- Separate gastronomy section with more food and drink than you can shake a conductor’s baton at
- 2020 dates: TBA (probably through July and August)
- See also: English cinemas | Events in Vienna
The film festival
Each summer, the square in front of Vienna’s city hall turns into an open-air cinema with a difference when the Rathaus Film Festival rolls into town.
The term film festival is a little misleading. We’re not talking about Steven Spielberg retrospectives or a celebration of Estonian film noir. Instead, it’s all about the music.
A giant screen shows recordings of concert performances and opera productions from across the music spectrum. Everything from the Beatles to Bernstein. It’s all open air and set against a backdrop of fine central European architecture. You can’t get more cultural bonus points than that.
Of course, man cannot live on culture alone. This being Vienna, the area leading up to the seating around the giant screen is a gastronomic paradise, with close to 30 bars and restaurants serving food and drink from around the world.
Plates of couscous and curry jostle with sausage and suckling pig, pasta and pancakes. Grab a steak or try some teriyaki salmon. All washed down with your beverage of choice.
And if this all sounds like a marvelous way to pass a summer’s evening, it is. With one caveat. It does get incredibly busy. Some 950,000 visitors took in the atmosphere in 2019. Finding a place to sit and eat can be especially tricky in the hour or two preceding the film.
The film festival originally focused on opera productions, but now there’s a mix of musical styles.
Classical compositions still dominate, but jazz, blues, rock, folk, even punk (albeit unplugged) make regular appearances. A recording of Eric Clapton’s Baloise Session might be followed the next day by an operetta by the Hungarian composer, Emmerich Kálmán.
It’s a little early for the 2020 programme, but here’s a look back at 2019:
The event coincided with the 150th birthday of the State Opera House. So the film festival programme began with two (almost) live broadcasts from that austere establishment – performances of Aida and Othello.
Other opera classics included Madame Butterfly, Carmen, and the Rosenkavalier.
On the more modern side of things, there were concerts by the likes of Ed Sheeran (at Wembley), Amy Winehouse (at Shepherd’s Bush), Sting (in Paris), and the aforementioned Clapton (at the Royal Albert Hall). My wife and I watched the Sheeran film and the atmosphere in the square was wonderful.
Then throw in some ballet (e.g. Peer Gynt or the Nutcracker Suite), orchestral music (e.g. the 2019 New Year’s Concert), a bit of jazz, a smidgeon of dance, and you had a truly eclectic mix of big screen entertainment.
For the full programme, always check the official website.
2020 dates & tickets
Dates for 2020 are not out yet, but the festival tends to run throughout July and August. In 2019, for example, it was June 29th to September 1st, with showings each day.
The films usually begin around dusk, but the food stalls tend to open late morning and stay open through to midight.
So how much is entry to this cultural extravaganza going to cost you? A big fat nothing.
You buy your food and drink as you’d expect, but the film showings are free. No ticket is required.
A word of warning, though. Don’t turn up just before the scheduled film start hoping for dinner and a show. Apart from the need to get a good seat by arriving earlier, you can’t eat or drink in the raised seating parts of the auditorium. So if you want to sit there and enjoy a meal, you’ll need to eat before taking in the film.
How to get to the film festival
Subway: Reach the Rathaus on the U2 subway line; get off at the Rathaus stop (surprise surprise)
Tram/bus: Alternatively, take trams 1, 71 and D to Rathausplatz / Burgtheater or tram 2 to Parlament
Address: Rathausplatz, 1010 Vienna | Website