Films have become our most democratic and universally loved art form, since nearly anyone can find themselves absorbed in a film of some kind and get lost in a fantasy world for 90 minutes or more. And there is perhaps no better time of year for film fans to gather and share in the best that Hollywood history has to offer than the four-day TCM Classic Film Festival held in Hollywood at the end of April each year.
This year marks its seventh go-round, as nearly 80 films are shown in venues ranging from the TCL Chinese Theatre IMAX and the Cinerama Dome to the Egyptian Theatre and pool of the historic Roosevelt Hotel. While the fest is known for its eclectic array of movies, what makes the trip to Hollywood from the San Gabriel Valley really worthwhile is the presence of big star power from across the decades.
“The first year we totaled showing about 50 movies, and without adding a single day we’re close to 90 movies now,” says Ben Mankiewicz, who along with fellow host Robert Osborne has become famous as the on-air face of TCM, also known as the Turner Classic Movies cable channel. “We’ve added theaters and events. It’s gotten better, you can tell that from the way fans react to it, and the repeat business we get is amazing. It’s an opportunity to give back a little bit to all these fans who have made the network as strong as it’s been.”
Mankiewicz feels that TCM’s mix of classic films from across multiple decades and genres has led to a passionate response from its fans, and that no other channel on television inspires the same level of devotion from fans towards its hosts. The only comparison he can think of is the kind of response that’s become notorious between fans and actors at “Star Trek” conventions.
This year’s fest will pay special tribute to several onscreen and off-screen icons, including Oscar-winning filmmaker Francis Ford Coppola and legendary actress Faye Dunaway. Coppola will not only have a hand and footprint ceremony and in front of the TCL Chinese Theatre IMAX, but will also discuss his classic film “The Conversation,” which is considered superb by most critics but was under-seen because its release was sandwiched between Coppola’s first two films in “The Godfather” trilogy.
Dunaway, meanwhile, will be sitting in for a special career-retrospective conversation in addition to being the guest at the official festival-closing film, 1976’s Best Picture-winning “Network.” In between, there will be screenings and discussions of “MASH” and “The Long Goodbye” with Elliott Gould, “Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid” with its director Carl Reiner, “The King & I” with Rita Moreno and “The Russians Are Coming! The Russians Are Coming!” with Eva Marie Saint.
“It grew for a while, but we’ve cut it off at a level we’re comfortable with,” says Charlie Tabesh, VP of programming for the fest. “Having five or six venues going at the same time for a four-day weekend is enough, and our plan for now is to continue like we are.”
Tabesh pointed out more of the fest’s special events, including a 25th anniversary screening of the modern urban-film classic “Boyz N The Hood” featuring its writer-director John Singleton, who was the first filmmaker since Orson Welles 50 years before to be nominated for both Best Screenplay and Best Director with a debut film.
“But the opening night film, ‘All the President’s Men,’ is particularly timely because it’s an election year, it’s its 40th anniversary and another great journalism film, ‘Spotlight,’ won Best Picture this year,” says Tabesh. “We have one of the real-life reporters the movie’s about, Carl Bernstein, along with ‘Spotlight’ director Tom McCarthy.”
A decidedly different kind of film at the fest is “Holiday in Spain,” which continues the fest’s tradition of playing a truly offbeat film or two each year. It also marks the only movie in this year’s lineup to play in the historic Cinerama Dome.
“It was the only film ever released in Smell-O-Vision, so we’re super-excited about it,” says Tabesh. “It features the actual smells of the film, so while watching movie, whether it’s at a beach or a pasture, you’ll have scents distributed throughout the audience. Some are distributed by fans but there’s also an audience-participation aspect too where the audience has to spray their bottle of scents.”
For his part, Mankiewicz feels that his job hosting many of the prime events is both a blessing and a challenge. He’ll be at the center of all the action this year, since Osborne won’t be attending.
“Anytime you have a chance to interview Coppola not just as a journalist but for a Q&A in front of packed house that knows and loves the film can be intimidating,” says Mankiewicz. “The channel has allowed me to be myself. They never tried to change it and stuck with me, what I was doing. The only way I’ve been successful is by being myself, even if some see me as snarky. TCM has afforded me the chance to be me unlike most channels that mold people into a conformed image. They give me great freedom and I’m incredibly grateful for that.”
The TCM Classic Film Festival runs today through Sunday at locations all over Hollywood. Visit filmfestival.tcm.com for schedule and ticket information.