Film festival season is ramping up, with South By Southwest in March giving way to Tribeca in April and then Cannes in May. At each of those events, since they were created, films from the past will be screened and celebrated in addition to the brand-new crop of work being shown for the first time.
In this dynamic landscape, it is safe to say that only one festival proudly spurns talk of acquisitions buzz, swag suites or breakout young talent bursting on the scene. The TCM Classic Film Festival, whose 6th edition unspools March 26-29, instead focuses on channeling the experience of the network launched 21 years ago in live-event form.
When it launched nearly 21 years ago, Turner Classic Movies set out to deliver the works of the Golden Age and other film favorites to a national TV audience. Since 2010, it has been occupying hallowed Hollywood ground (aka Hollywood Boulevard, next door to the Deluxe Theatre and Jimmy Kimmel Live) to lure cinephiles out of their living rooms and into some of the best movie palaces still in existence.
This year's lineup features 80 films, across the spectrum from The Sound of Music to Raiders of the Lost Ark to Marriage Italian Style, with several restored films screening as world premieres, complete with celebrity and red carpet trappings. Last year, attendance was 26,000.
"Our goal with the festival has always been to bring together the TCM community," says Genevieve McGillicuddy, who was recently upped to VP of brand activations and partnerships. Adds GM Jennifer Dorian, "the festival has a convention-like atmosphere to it."
Focusing on live events isn't a brand-new concept for cable networks, especially as they look to develop new revenue streams in addition to the dual income from distributors and advertisers. Dorian, who became TCM's general manager in January after working in other parts of the Turner universe since 2000. Prior to her TV career, she worked at both Coca-Cola and Pizza Hut, and has set about expanding TCM's revenue streams via a relationship with theatrical distributor Fathom, auction house Bonhams and an annual cruise.
TCM's festival is unique because of its focus on classics. And Dorian, who has encouraged a broader definition of the term, believes there is a "healthy tension between the fans and the network about what's a classic."
Charlie Tabesh, senior VP of programming and an 18-year TCM vet, agrees: "From Day 1, with the festival just as with the network, we've had people say, 'That movie doesn't belong. That's not a classic.' But if it's there, it's there for a reason."
Tabesh notes that in the exploding world of festivals where literally hundreds of events choke the calendar around the world, there are “noir festivals or nitrate festivals or hard-core festivals that appeal to a niche segment. What we do differently is that we are broader.”
McGillicuddy notes that each year’s attendance includes people from all 50 states and a handful of foreign countries. “We are proud to have created a destination event,” she said.