When we talk of family movies, we usually refer to children’s movies–often animated and free of violence, sex and profanity. But how often do families actually go out to see movies together? In some countries, the presence of a movie projector in a community is a great luxury, and screenings are held outdoors in the town’s main square. These are truly family viewing events, and we see vestiges of the phenomenon at the throngs who show up for Bollywood movies at Cary’s Galaxy Cinema. Otherwise, movie-going is an atomized experience as narrowly targeted movies draw audiences of narrow demographic range.

But in the sweet and sticky and cooling-off summer evenings, family movie viewing will come alive in Raleigh, Cary, Chapel Hill and Hillsborough. Lawnchairs will be mustered, blankets will be unfurled and coolers stashed with sandwiches will be thrown open for business.

For the hardcore cinephiles, there’s probably no greater gift than Movies on the Lawn at the North Carolina Museum of Art. Once again they’ve come up with an appealing mix of classic films (The Birds and Vertigo will comprise a Hitchcockian double-bill in August) and several of the best of Hollywood’s recent hits (the latest Harry Potter and Spider-Man 2).

In one bit of welcome news for veterans of previous summers at NCMA, the ticket prices have been substantially reduced. Now, NCMA members get in free while everyone else pays $3. “We just looked around at other people doing what we’re doing and we concluded that we were on the high end,” says George Holt, the museum’s director of performing arts and film programming.

Holt and his team have also taken some calculated risks with their programming. The most appealing double-bill weekend of the summer is their two nights of Richard Linklater’s Before Sunrise (June 10) and Before Sunset (June 11). These films, made nine years apart, chart the hyper-articulate, self-conscious and frequently adversarial romance between Ethan Hawke’s swaggering but self-deluding American and Julie Delpy’s prim but sly Frenchwoman. The latter film played only briefly in local theaters last summer, but with this back-to-back booking, the Museum is giving the films the lush summer exposure they deserve.

Last summer’s series was bedeviled by rain–“the rainiest summer I can remember,” says Holt–and one particularly unfortunate casualty was Les Primitifs du Futur, a French dancehall combo that was set to play a concert in advance of The Triplets of Belleville . Holt maintained his contacts with the band–which also experienced last-minute visa problems–and has rebooked the concert and Sylvain Chomet’s exotically old-fashioned animated tale of a cyclist, a grandma and a dog for June 25.

In addition to the movies and movie-music combos, the Museum has assembled a startlingly high-powered lineup of stand-alone concerts. In fact, the summer series kicks off Saturday, June 4 with an appearance by Grammy-nominee Tift Merritt, with Cool John Ferguson and John Dee Holeman set to open. Aimee Mann arrives two weeks later, supported by Ben Lee. July is ethnic music month, with Beausoleil headlining the Eighth Annual Louisiana Dance Party on July 16 and Dervish serving things up July 29 at the Ninth Annual Celtic Wonders Concert. Finally, in August, the reigning, non-conjugal queen and king of lefty country will each appear: Lucinda Williams comes to town on Aug. 10 and Steve Earle will conclude the museum’s summer outdoor offerings on Aug. 27.

Food may be brought in to the screenings, but alcohol must be purchased on site. The museum has revamped its menu, taking over the concession with its in-house food service. See www.ncartmuseum.org for full schedule.

The movie offerings at the Koka Booth Ampitheatre at Regency Park are held most Thursdays, with an emphasis on family-friendly films. They’ll kick off the season on June 2 with Shrek 2. Other titles include Anchorman, The Village, Ray and The Aviator. The season will wrap on Aug. 18 with a welcome rebroadcast of one of last year’s most overlooked Hollywood movies, the fine high school football drama Friday Night Lights. The Booth Ampitheatre will host an extensive lineup of musical acts, including numerous appearances by the N.C. Symphony, along with concerts by Alison Krauss (this Sunday, May 29), Aretha Franklin and Clay Aiken (described on the Web site with uncanny and rather deflating accuracy as the “2003 American Idol runner-up”).

Movies are $3, free for children under 12. All food and beverages must be purchased on site. See www.boothamphitheatre.com for full schedule.

Chapel Hill
In the Southern Village mini-community, the Lumina Theater will once again offer outdoor movies. The season began last weekend with The Incredibles, perhaps the best family film, in the truest sense of the word, to come in ages. This weekend will feature Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events–a movie that may well improve with exposure to the outdoor screens. On June 3 and 4, however, one of the films best suited to the fresh summer air will play on the Lumina screen, when Paul Giamatti uncorks his libido in Sideways. A pre-film wine tasting will be hosted by Pazzo.

All tickets are $3. Only the first half of the season’s program has been determined; the remainder is TBA. See www.thelumina.com for the schedule through July.

The much-loved Starlite Drive-In burned down last August. Although raising the $35,000 needed to rebuild the screen has been an arduous undertaking, at last report owner Bob Groves is hopeful that the screen will be completed soon. Philanthropic lovers of outdoor movies can donate online at www.saveourstarlite.org, where 2005 season passes are available for $100.

On Last Fridays in Hillsborough this summer, downtown streets are closed and artists and musicians take center stage. On these nights, the place to meet some of the area’s best filmmakers will be at the Masonic Lodge on King Street. Hillsborough filmmaker Andrea DeGette has partnered with area film stalwarts like Tom Whiteside, Brett Ingram and Skip “A/V Geeks” Elsheimer to produce Super-8 and 16-mm shows that will screen both indoors and out. This Friday, May 27, DeGette herself will be the curator, showing Sisters of Apex, a film based on her family experiences in Apex, Colo. She promises a surprise special guest, as well. There’s no Web site for this series, but DeGette has plans for programs on the last Friday of every month through September, with screenings starting at 8:30 p.m. Call the Hillsborough Arts Council at 338-0915 for details.