Festivals without frontiers: pack your bags and get ready for the 12 events you can’t miss in 2020

With the holiday season on its way out, it’s time to book your getaways for the new year. Here’s our list of the best of alternative film festivals, innovative creative events, and remote forest raves taking place every month of the year all across the New East.

6 January 2020

Night in Murmansk. Image: Inversia/Facebook

January

Kustendorf Film and Music Festival, Drvengrad, Serbia

Escape the January blues with some masterpieces of auteur cinema and live music in the snow-capped Serbian mountains. Founded by award-winning director Emir Kusturica in Drvengrad, the purpose-built set of his film Life is a Miracle, Kustendorf brings together emerging film talent from the Balkans and beyond for an alternative festival that positions itself at the opposite end of elitist, red-carpet galas.

February

Inversia Festival, Murmansk, Russia

In February, Russia’s frozen tundra is on fire with creative energy. Inversia is an experimental multimedia festival bringing together diverse communities of artists and curators from northwest Russia and northern Europe in Murmansk, where they explore the power of creative technologies in geographically-isolated spaces, and dispel the idea of darkness and remoteness as negative notions. The festival features innovative digital artworks, public workshops, and vibrant electronic music concerts under the perpetual nightfall of Russia’s Arctic Circle.

Lake Bliznaka. Image: Alexandra Karadzhova/Wikimedia Commons under a CC licence.

March

Docudays UA, Kyiv, Ukraine

Creativity meets activism at Ukraine’s biggest documentary film festival, Docudays UA. Taking place in venues across the city, Docudays features some of the best human rights documentaries from across the world, bringing together prominent personalities from the film and charity sectors. Inspired by contemporary issues, the festival aims to spark thought-provoking discussions on pressing social justice issues in Ukraine and beyond.

April

Hiking the Seven Rila Lakes, Bulgaria

As the snow slowly melts and the meadows blossom, April is the perfect time to embark on a stunning hike across Bulgaria’s Seven Rila Lakes. Whether you are gearing up for a day trip from Sofia or a week-long trekking adventure, these turquoise glacial lakes are guaranteed to leave their mark.

An underground festival gig at an abandoned building in Armenia. Image: Courtesy of Uvakan

May

Urvakan, Yerevan, Armenia

An abandoned railway station, a river dam, and a stage deep in the woodlands are some of the unusual venues hosting Armenia’s first underground music festival. Urvakan’s music programme features ongoing projects from more than 80 artists from 22 countries, blending electronica with classical music and contemporary folk in a bid to bring Yerevan’s neglected spaces back to life for a kaleidoscopic cultural celebration.

June

Meadows in the mountains, Polkovnik Serafimovo, Bulgaria

Calling all festival-goers, hedonists, and adventure-lovers: in the heart of the Rhodope Mountains, old monastery bells are getting ready to chime for the 10th edition of Bulgaria’s free-spirited music festival, Meadows in the Mountains. Its international lineup is defiantly underground, shunning commercial artists to showcase those who share their values of social harmony, self-expression, and respect for nature. Cast aside your daily woes, shrug off the binding chains of the 9 to 5, and indulge in a weekend of mind-expanding experiences at eastern Europe’s version of Burning Man. Click here to watch a video about last year’s edition of the festival.

Revellers gather at Meadows in the Mountains. Image: Lara Maisa

July

Electric Castle, Transylvania, Romania

Jump, mosh, and grind to your favourite band in a medieval castle at Romania’s one-of-a-kind music event. The festival lives up to its name and brings together an electric international line-up mixed with new media installations and interactive performances. Everything is set against the backdrop of the breathtaking scenery of Banffy Castle, creating an alternate world in the heart of Transylvania. Click here to discover this year’s lineup.

August

DT Camp, Lithuania

Experience the isolated magic of the woods at Lithuania’s annual invite-only rave in a secret location. Set in an undisclosed location in a national park, DT Camp guarantees a memorable experience, both musically and atmospherically.

Fans watch as 30 Seconds to Mars perform. Image: Courtesy of Electronic Castle

September

Stihia Festival, Maynaq, Uzbekistan

A dystopian fishing port comes alive to the pumping sounds of electronica in the cosmic immensity of the desert for this bold techno music festival. Featuring an international lineup, Stihia brings electronic beats to this far-flung corner of Uzbekistan to draw attention to the aftermath of the Aral Sea catastrophe, and act as an alarm bell for the environmental crisis. Both a form of escapism and a painful reminder of the consequences of climate change, Stihia represents an electronic dawn for Central Asia. Click here to watch the aftermovie from the 2018 edition.

October

Signal Festival, Prague, Czech Republic

Cutting-edge multimedia installations and innovative light shows take over the Czech capital at Signal: a four-day festival of light art and emerging technology that illuminates both the city’s historical landmarks and neglected spaces. Inspired by contemporary trends of social uprising and technological innovations, the festival seeks to mix art and technology in a bid to spark discussion about a world on the threshold of a fourth industrial revolution.

The night sky above rusting ships on the former Aral Sea. Image: Courtesy of Stihia Festival

November

Mezipatra, Czech Republic

As winter sinks in, book your tickets for Europe’s hottest queer film festival. Translated to “mezzanine” in English, the name Mezipatra alludes to the festival’s mission to offer a space for meeting and self-expression across venues in Prague and Brno. Screenings and discussions feature Czech and foreign films centred around LGBTQ+ issues and the creators behind them.

December

It’s that time of the year again. Why do your Christmas shopping in an overcrowded mall, when you can lose yourself in a gorgeous craft market in the New East? Our top picks for shopping getaways include outdoor markets in Budapest, Gdansk, Cluj-Napoca, and Novi Sad. If you want to take your Christmas up a notch, grab your skates and hit the rink at the most iconic ice skating locations on offer throughout the region, or book a last-minute winter getaway in one of these chic New East retreats and say goodbye to 2020 in style.

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