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Behind the scenes of Los Angeles' long-awaited Academy Museum

After a decade of delays, Hollywood's cinema museum is set to open this September shining a spotlight on a treasure trove of movie memorabilia.

The Academy Museum of Motion Pictures is housed in a former 1930s department store, and spruced up by architect Renzo Piano, who’s added an enormous glass-domed sphere to the building.

Photograph by Why Architecture
By Connor McGovern
Published 11 Aug 2021, 06:00 BST

Following a string of setbacks, many film fans may still be wondering if they’ll ever see the new James Bond flick, No Time to Die. Thankfully, a release date has been set: 30 September — the same day the red carpet will be rolled out across the pond for another of Hollywood’s most-anticipated new releases. Despite similarly slow progress — funding, construction and a pandemic each playing their part — the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures finally opens its doors on Los Angeles’ Wilshire Boulevard.

This is a blockbuster of a development that’s been a decade in the making. The museum is housed in a former 1930s department store, and spruced up by architect Renzo Piano, who’s added an enormous glass-domed sphere to the building, where visitors can marvel at views across the Hollywood Hills.

But it’s the inside that dazzles: more than just a collection of movie memorabilia, this is a 300,000sq ft celebration of the multifarious art of filmmaking. Everything, from screenwriting and special effects to casting and costume design, is explored in its Stories of Cinema events programme. The multi-floor exhibition features a 1,000-seat screening theatre, installations by the likes of director Pedro Almodóvar, an entire room devoted to The Wizard of Oz (featuring a pair of Judy Garland’s ruby slippers) and a cast of well-known characters including E.T., Snow White and Bugs Bunny. But this isn’t just glossy spectacle — the museum intends to show all facets of film, even the uncomfortable truths of the industry. Case in point is the exhibition Regeneration: Black Cinema 1898-1971, which will open in 2022 and shine a timely spotlight on African Americans’ much-unsung contribution to filmmaking.

After a year-and-a-half like no other, 30 September is a much-anticipated milestone for the entertainment industry. But until then, and while British film buffs can’t make it to Tinseltown, fans can get their fix with the museum’s variety of virtual events, including screenings and interviews with directors, composers and actors. 

Read more: the ultimate hotel guide to Los Angeles

The Stories of Cinema exhibition at the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures explores the multifarious art of filmmaking, from screenwriting and special effects to casting and costume design.

Photograph by JWPictures

More movie magic

The hotel
You might be used to in-room TVs, but what about your own cinema? Dubbed the world’s first ‘cinema-hotel’, Hotel Paradiso has made its debut near Paris’ Place de la Nation. It’s a first from production company mk2 Films, which has decked out 36 rooms with bright, plush decor and huge projector screens. There are bagels and vegan apple pie at Bob’s Juice Bar, while a rooftop cinema and ‘La La Land’ karaoke room are in the works. Head to the rooftop, anyway — it’s already the place for a cocktail and show-stealing views of the City of Light. From €224 (£193), room only. 

The exhibition
Alice: Curiouser and Curiouser, at London’s V&A, explores the topsy-turvy world and countless iterations of one of literature’s most enduring stories, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Through immersive exhibits and eye-popping VR experiences, the show goes down the rabbit hole and way beyond Disney’s iconic 1951 adaptation to explore the various interpretations of the 157-year-old story, from shows by The Royal Ballet to works by Salvador Dalí. There’s also a section on Alice Liddell, the real-life girl who inspired Lewis Carroll’s classic tale. Until 31 December. 

The festival
Continuing its tour around the country, the Film & Food Fest is stopping at towns and cities across the country on various weekends. Cinephiles can expect outdoor film screenings — ranging from Dirty Dancing to Joker — as well as plenty of street food over each three-day fiesta, which will be springing up in parks everywhere from Bournemouth to Leeds. Dates throughout August and September, with the final event in Manchester from 23-26 September. 

Published in the September 2021 issue of National Geographic Traveller (UK)

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