Well, I’m sadly back in the real world after four days of classic films and fun, thanks to the TCM Film Festival in Hollywood, California. This was the fifth year of the festival, which celebrates all things classic, and was leading up to the 20th anniversary of the channel, so there were a lot of fun surprises and celebrations to be had. Throughout (hopefully) today/this week, I’ll be posting my “diary” entries for each day of the fest. They’re a bit late, perhaps to the point that they’re no longer relevant… but I’m doing them anyway! I’m starting here with my general impressions of the festival, to give some background if you’ve never been to the festival, as well as some feelings and tips for myself to remember should I be able to return in coming years.

(Photo by Stefanie Keenan/WireImage)
(Photo by Stefanie Keenan/WireImage)

One of the first things I noticed about TCM Fest is that it’s halfway between a summer camp and a boot camp. I don’t think I’ve ever had so many conversations with so many (former) strangers within a four-day period—practically every time I paused in a line or sat next to someone in a theater, I’d soon have a new buddy sharing their name, where they were from, how many kids they had, and their schedule for the Fest. There was an instant commonality there for meeting people, as we knew we were all there primarily because we were huge movie fans. It was one of maybe a handful of events in the world where you could be confident that your neighbor would back up your assessment of William Powell’s handsomeness or the radiance of Elizabeth Taylor. Unlike some other film festivals, TCM Fest is not just a place to go to after parties and “be seen,” and you can be fairly sure that everyone standing in your line is genuinely interested in seeing the film, and are not just there because it’s the hot ticket. In fact, it’s more likely that the sell-out crowd is waiting for a 1944 romantic comedy that’s not available on DVD than the 1939 Best Picture nominee. The other bonus is that, despite feeling like it’s sometimes impossible to choose between titles, really there are only six options available at any given time in the schedule, and thus many opportunities to run into the same people over and over again. By the festival’s end, I was routinely pausing to chat with people I’d met in line on Thursday, or at a Friday morning screening, or sitting in the Genworth living room charging phones. Part of this friendliness, I think, is that it seemed like the majority of passholders were from out of town—not to say, necessarily, that Los Angelenos aren’t friendly, but that most people seemed to be there as individuals or couples, who are probably more prone to chat up their neighbors than a large, existing clique of locals.

(Photo by Alberto E. Rodriguez/WireImage)
(Photo by Alberto E. Rodriguez/WireImage)

On the flip side of this fellowship experience, and the reason I didn’t end up posting these diaries at the end of each night, as I had planned, is that it’s also an INTENSE outing. I had attended TCM Fest previously only as a standby person, waiting at the end of the line to see if there were any seats left after the passholders had gone in, hoping to be able to grab an individual ticket for a single chosen screening. Having the pass really opened up my freedom in choosing a range of movies, and it was hard to resist going to something during every single scheduled period, even for the sake of sleep/sanity. On Friday and Saturday for example, the first movies started at 9am (and thus, a model citizen would arrive in line there at 8am to secure a good spot in the queue), and continued all the way through to the midnight movies scheduled for those evenings. So, if somebody went to every single potential screening (and, judging by Twitter, I’m sure there were many of those people out there), they’d be at the Fest from around 8am through 2am or so, then turn around and do the same thing the next day. Luckily, by virtue of our attendance at the Fest, the problem of “too many movies” is not really an issue for most of us, but I did have to argue with myself that skipping a film in the 9am or 10pm time slot here and there would be beneficial in the long run, and allow me to enjoy more movies overall without burning out.

And more than just the overall time range, but the choices that had to be made were often very tough, as a few of the time slots presented many solid options that I’d consider “unmissable” in most other contexts outside the festival. Happily though, and hopefully similar to other people’s experiences, there was never a moment where I was sitting in a theater wishing I had been seeing something else—pretty much EVERY option presented was a great one, so no matter what you ended up choosing, you were going to get a great viewing experience. Of course, there are movies I wasn’t able to see that I’ve added to my list to track down and watch on my own, but that’s more of a function of not having access to a Time Turner than any regrets in schedule choices.

(Photo by John Sciulli/WireImage)
(Photo by John Sciulli/WireImage)

TCM Fest boasts an incredibly full schedule, such that attendees are really able to craft their own perfect experience. The TCL Chinese Imax focused on playing the biggest classics and epics, like The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly, Gone With the Wind, and The Wizard of Oz; the Egyptian hosted unique events, like a live orchestra score to silent films; Club TCM welcomed Hollywood legends for enligtening conversations; and the smaller theaters at the Chinese multiplex held the more obscure titles, often newly discovered prints that were unavailable on home video. The opportunity was really there for pretty much every kind of classic movie fan to curate an optimal weekend, whether they were more interested in seeing their favorites on the big screen, discovering new ones, or experiencing live events.

Photo by Mark Hill
Photo by Mark Hill

I’ll also briefly mention that I LOVED how they dealt with the queues throughout the festival. Approximately one hour before the scheduled start time, you could line up to receive a queue ticket, which were numbered in the order you were standing. Once you received this ticket, you were free to leave the line for up to 30 minutes—very handy for grabbing a quick bite to eat or just lounging in the beautiful California sun for a moment—and you would be guaranteed to return to your spot in line before they let in. This avoided accusations of mass place-holding, as well as discouraging people from waiting in line for hours and hours for a single screening. As a veteran of certain comic conventions that require waiting 12 hours for some panels, and run rampant with line-cutting, the whole process felt very dignified and civilized. I had no trouble getting into any of my screenings, even without the highest level pass for early entry, and I had enough time to feel like an actual human person in between screenings, which is very important when you’re undertaking such a fabulous, but intense, event.

So, check back in over the next few days as I update the rest of my experience from TCM Film Fest, and continue to profess my undying gratitude for the TCM Film Fest team.

All photos courtesy of the TCM photo pool.

2 Replies to “TCM Fest Diary: The Big Picture

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