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“Travel deeper” has become quite the mantra for post-pandemic journeys. Now more than ever before, we’re hungry for immersive experiences in local flavours, sights and ways of living. The varnished “tourist knowledge” we gain from travel company brochures is no longer enough. After all, if you’re going to Sicily, you’re going to want to see more of it than what you have in The White Lotus, or on squares tiles and ever-shorter vlogs on social media.
One way to really immerse yourself in a new world, we submit, is to explore it through the lens of culture. The world’s biggest cities, such as New York, are hotbeds of creative activity — where art thrives and evolves rapidly. Others, like El Gouna, an Egyptian town at the edge of the Red Sea, have transformed into important destinations on the global circuit, with flourishing tourism and hospitality, often due only to a cultural festival they host. And then there are places like Jaipur, where a behemoth of a literary festival has now put it on the radar of bibliophiles and the global literary circuit as much as indophiles and heritage hunters.
Here are some interesting film, music and art festivals to bookmark for your next big holiday. Plan ahead.
Film festivals in 2023
Park City, Utah, the US
19-29 January, 2023
On since 1978, Sundance has grown into the most respected film festival for independent cinema in the world, with a little help from Hollywood legend Robert Redford. Over the years, it has jumpstarted the careers of filmmakers like the Coen Brothers, Steven Soderbergh and Quentin Tarantino, and lately, spotlighted Indian talent, with films like Ajitpal Singh’s Fire In The Mountains, Rintu Thomas and Sushmit Ghosh’s Writing With Fire and Shaunak Sen’s All That Breathes finding international acclaim. Next year, among the 100+ films being screened are Richie Mehta’s Poacher, Reema Maya’s short Nocturnal Burger, and Shalini Adnani’s White Ant.
While you’re there: Make time for hitting the ski slopes of this state in the Mountain West, walking about the Main Street historic district, and chomping down some great seafood at local favourite Freshie’s Lobster.
Toronto International Film Festival
To be announced (TBA), September 2023
It is 47-years-old, and among the world’s largest showcases of cinema from around the world, Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) is regarded as second only to the Cannes Film Festival in terms of the celebrity and profile of its patrons and participants. Their annual awards, especially the People’s Choice Award, given on the basis of audience vote, has come to be a key indicator of how things play out during Hollywood award season. So while the fate of actor Brendan Gleeson and Martin McDonagh’s The Banshees of Inisherin is all but sealed; plan for an autumn trip to the northern hemisphere to stay ahead of the curve.
While you’re there: Hike through the Scarborough Bluffs, feast on multicultural cuisines at Kensington Market, and make time to visit Casa Loma, home to Prof. Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters from X-Men.
Red Sea International Film Festival
Jeddah, Saudi Arabia
TBA, December 2023
This shiny new film festival in the MENA (Middle East and North Africa) region is for hardcore Bollywood buffs. With a mission to focus on new storytelling trends and spotlight emerging Arab talent, the Red Sea Film Festival also mines the Middle East’s enduring love for popular Hindi language cinema. Priyanka Chopra Jonas, Akshay Kumar, Ranveer Singh, Kareena Kapoor Khan, Shah Rukh Khan, Ranbir Kapoor, Hritik Roshan and many more have made appearances in the festival’s two editions so far; and this year also saw Jackie Chan and Naomi Campbell join in the fun. Only two years old, the wattage is high; but also, the curation of films on show, old and new, is eclectic and inspiring.
While you’re there: Make time for the outstanding Jeddah Sculpture Museum (free entry), walk around the Corniche, visit Al Balad, the historical old town of Jeddah. Before your flight out, don’t forget to take pictures of the giant fish tank at the King Abdulaziz International Airport.
Dharamshala International Film Festival
McLeod Ganj, Himachal Pradesh
TBA, November 2023
Dharamshala International Film Festival (DIFF) started as a small operation by filmmakers Ritu Sarin and Tenzing Sonam in 2012 in an endeavour to promote independent cinema and art practices in the Himalayan region. It has grown into (arguably) India’s most prestigious destination for cinephiles, not least for the unusual cinema on display, and the very romantic backdrop in which it plays out. To add to the experience, this year, they held screenings inside inflatable theatres set up by mobile theatre company Picture Time.
While you’re there: Keep some days in hand for a trek to Triund, visit the Norbulingka Institute and the Namgyal Monastery, and keep some days aside to unwind in solitude at the brand new hotel Norbu the Montanna.
February 16-26, 2023
One of the “Big 3”, along with Cannes and Venice film festivals, Berlinale was born at the peak of the Cold War and has been around since 1951. The opening film, at the first ever edition, was Alfred Hitchcock’s Rebecca (1940); and ever since, there’s been a certain prestige attached to presenting films here. Through a vast, diverse programme — and with the yet-to-release Spencer actor Kristen Stewart at the helm of its competition jury in 2023 — it continues to be a succinct “showcase of the free world”. Already announced are some high-ticket screenings, including the world premiere of the Alicia Silverstone-starrer Perpetrator; Willem Dafoe’s Inside; and several incisive documentaries and features from Europe and West Asia.
While you’re there: Head to the top of the Reichstag; chill at Mauerpark and keep a weekend aside for Berghain, a clubbing experience with no parallel in the world.
Busan International Film Festival
Haeundae-gu, Busan, South Korea
TBA, September-October, 2023
One of Asia’s oldest and largest film festivals, Busan showed almost 300 films from 71 countries this year in its 27th edition. Starting out as a non-competitive festival, it gathered momentum about a decade ago when Asia became an important market for Western film industries. A keen balance of glitz and glamour on the one hand, and an element of discovery and genuinely good filmmaking from Asia and the rest of the world, Busan International Film Festival (BIFF) is a force to reckon with. Plus, if you’re swept up in the K-drama craze, what better occasion than this to go to the source of the hallyu?
While you’re there: Spend an afternoon at the Haeundae beach; hike up to Taejongdae for breathtaking views; and eat your way through Gwangbokdong food street.
Music festivals in 2023
Chicago, Illinois, US
August 3-6, 2023
Fun fact: Lollapalooza started in 1991 as a multi-city farewell tour for the band Jane’s Addiction; a historic tour that, it is said, changed the course of American music in the 1990s, ushering in the era of alternative music. Today, the festival is held in seven countries — its debut edition in India brings pop-rock royalty Imagine Dragons to Mumbai in January — and attracts millions each year. Lolla Grant Park will remain the OG, and especially if you’ve missed the bus on the Mumbai edition, consider heading West. Do it for the music.
While you’re there: Partaking of deep-dish pizza and jazz clubs aside, walk around town to acquaint yourself with architect Frank Lloyd Wright’s work, visit the unique Museum of Science and Industry, and take a selfie with Anish Kapoor’s iconic Cloud Gate at the Millennium Park.
TBA, December 2023
A boutique festival set inside a palace in the Thar desert, Magnetic Fields is among the sharpest showcases of contemporary music and arts in the world. With a keen focus on electronic music (but also jazz and singer-songwriters) and avant-garde art installations, Alsisar Mahal transforms into a three-day rave every December. This year, headlining the festival was the well-regarded English electronic musician Four Tet, along with names like Ben UFO, HVOB, Vieux Farka Toure and the who’s who of Indian electronica, and even an AI-driven art x music showcase called Elsewhere In India. This is for the serious patrons, not followers of hype.
While you’re there: Magnetic Fields is a city in itself, but if you have the will to get out, might as well try to take in a wildlife safari and go on a fresco-spotting trail.
Pilton, Somerset, England
21-25 June, 2023
Inspired by the counterculture of the 1960s, Glastonbury is a free-form festival that spotlights the very best of music from the UK, US, Europe and elsewhere. But it is also an absolute carnival of food, art and entertainment. The 2022 edition was headlined by Billie Eilish, Paul McCartney and Kendrick Lamar — i.e. the biggest music makers of the year. It has also been the stage where history happens: In 2023, Elton John will headline the Pyramid Stage, for his final UK show of his last ever tour.
While you’re there: Visit the Wells Museum, the Glastonbury Abbey and keep some days aside for a visit to Bath, Somerset’s biggest city — where you must walk along the skyline.
Niligata Prefecture, Japan
TBA, July 2023
Legend has it that Red Hot Chilli Peppers played the first ever Fuji Rock, in 1997 at the base of Mt Fuji, through a storm and with a drummer with a broken arm. This eclectic but massive festival (it has over 200 artists from Japan and the world on its line-up in any given year) then moved to a ski resort that is a 90-minute train ride from Tokyo — and hasn’t looked back since. 2022’s edition had globally-known artists like Vampire Weekend, Jack White and Halsey headlining, with multiple stages. At the largest music festival in Japan, you’re assured of the “Glastonbury vibe”.
While you’re there: Visit the Kiyotsu Gorge and the Yahiko Shrine, ski on the slopes of Yuzawa, sample some sake at the Ponshu-kan museum, try Hegi noodles, and soak in an onsen (hot springs).
Ziro Festival of Music
Ziro, Arunachal Pradesh
TBA, September-October 2023
The best of Indian independent music, sustainability, and unique experiences in the Himalayas: Ziro has stayed true to its vision in the 10 years that it’s been around. Hosted by the Apatani tribe, the festival brings an all-star line-up from across the country, with a spotlight for musicians from the North-Eastern states, to Ziro’s eco-conscious stages and festival grounds, keeping the spirit of the forest alive.
While you’re there: Visit the Talley Valley Wildlife Sanctuary and the Orchid Research Centre, and don’t leave without a taste of the very potent apong (rice beer).
29 May-1 June, 2023
A major destination for indie and alternative music lovers, Primavera Sound is also one of the biggest cultural events in Spain. Going down at the Parc del Forum, the seaside public park that is an architectural marvel in itself; the festival has millions in attendance each year, and now also has international editions. Next year’s theme is “I’ll be your mirror” — featuring huge names like Pet Shop Boys, Kendrick Lamar, Calvin Harris, Blur and Depeche Mode for headliners.
While you’re there: Walk around the Gothic Quarter, head out to Mt Tibidabo for a great view of the city, say thanks to your soccer gods at Camp Nou, get in some paella or tapas at any of Barcelona’s many fine restaurants — and need we mention trips to architect Antoni Gaudi’s creations, including the Sagrada Familia and Casa Mila?
Art Festivals in 2023
Hong Kong, Basel, Miami
23-25 March, 2023 (Hong Kong)
With 171 exhibitors from 32 countries, Art Basel’s Hong Kong edition is set to make a triumphant return post-pandemic. Art Basel, since its inception in Switzerland 1970, has been for those serious about collecting art, and Hong Kong (as well as Miami and Paris) is no different with its spotlight in modern and contemporary art from the Asia-Pacific region. From India, Vadehra Art Gallery (Delhi) is participating; while Jhaveri Contemporary will be presenting Bangladeshi artist Joydeb Roaja, and Tarq, of Indian artist Nibha Sikander; among others.
While you’re there: Take a cable car ride on the Ngong Ping 360, visit Cape D’Aguilar, Hong Kong’s oldest lighthouse, and witness a different kind of art at Tai Kwun.
On till 10 April, 2023
It might be facing turbulence in take-off this year but — judging by the astronomical prices of flights to Kochi in the first week of December and its endless popularity — the Kochi-Muziris Biennale is India’s biggest, most enjoyable and accessible art event ever created. This year’s theme, “In Our Veins Flow Ink And Fire”, is being brought to life by curator Shubigi Rao (an India-born, Singapore-based artist-intellectual), along with festival director Bose Krishnamachari, through spectacular artworks installed inside old halls and new streets.
While you’re there: Visit Jew Town and the Edappally Church Complex, take pictures of the Chinese fishing nets, and feast on some biryani, whether it’s at Pandari’s or Rolexio.
October 11-15, 2023
Created by the folks behind the art magazine and an institution in the art world, Frieze is unique in its set-up that seeks to establish and explore the relationship between historical and emerging practices of art, as well as the spectator. While Frieze mainly focuses on contemporary art or art produced post-2000, Frieze Masters showcases modern art, work created pre-2000. Perhaps, the most popular is the Frieze Sculpture Park, featuring major outdoor works set up at The Regent Park’s English Gardens.
While you’re there: Keep a tab on the London Restaurant Festival, take in a few screenings at the BFI London Film Festival, take the kids on a tour of the Harry Potter studio and dine at The Tamil Prince, which is universally being hailed as the best new Indian restaurant in London.
Black Rock City, Nevada, US
TBA, August-September 2023
Each year, the Black Rock City is built up in the Mojave desert and torn down in a week. For that time, it is the home of Burning Man, a multi-disciplinary arts festival that is more of an annual pilgrimage for intellectually-minded “cult” (particularly popular among the techpreneurs of Silicon Valley and left-field Hollywood) than a Gen-Z romp in the fields. While music, dance and performance are part of the mix, it is the sculptural installations that crop up all over the desert, around the Burning Man statue, that live on in pop-cultural memory. In 2023, the theme is “Animalia”, or a celebration of the animal world and our place in it; “animals real and imagined, mythic and remembered.” It’s going to be wild.
While you’re there: Stay there. Burning Man deserves no distractions.
22-26 February, 2023
While you’re there: Schedule a meal at celebrated chef Dani Garcia’s new restaurant or street feast at the Vallehermoso market, get cocktails at Salmon Guru, and head to Circulo de Bellas Artes for the best views of the city.
Dubai, the UAE
1-5 March, 2023
Diversity (and the emirate’s rising investor class) is why Art Dubai is now considered to be at the heart of the art world. In a short 15 years, Art Dubai has grown from strength to strength, today hosting over 90 galleries from over 40 countries. On display is art of the past, present and future, art that is medium-agnostic and forward-looking.
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