Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Cinefest, Part I: The Experience

My Cinefest lanyard and booklet

The grand finale of Cinefest was bittersweet for many. Regulars and newcomers alike felt the pang of sorrow coupled with the excitement of seeing old friends, meeting new ones and being treated to rare cinematic treasures. My trip to Cinefest was my first and last and while I was there I couldn’t help feeling like I had crashed someone else’s family reunion. The bond between the festival-goers who held Cinefest near and dear to their hearts was strong. I got to witness something truly special. And while it was coming to an end there was a lingering hope that a reincarnation was possible sometime in the future.

Cinefest dealer's room

Cinefest has been running for three-and-a-half decades, as long as I’ve been alive, and the final show, Cinefest 35 took place at the Liverpool/Syracuse, NY Holiday Inn. The hotel’s convention center houses Cinefest's screening room, complete with a projectionist stand, a waiting area, a dining room which features an endless supply of free popcorn and two dealer’s rooms. When I arrived at the hub of Cinefest I was met with an overwhelming odor of cigarettes, mold and must that mostly came from the dealer’s rooms. It took some getting used to but it eventually grew on me. Everything here was old from the films, the objects and the souls. During the four days of the festival, dealers sold many different types of goods of varying legality. Bootleg DVDs, CDs, 16mm and 35mm films, used books, posters, magazines and more. Attendees would dip in and out of the dealer’s rooms, exploring the wares and making purchases, all throughout the festival.

Complimentary popcorn

The ladies at the registration table outside the dealer rooms greeted attendees, answered questions and distributed welcome packs. My 4-day pass was $75, $10 off for registering early, and my welcome pack came with a lanyard and name tag, a Cinefest 35 coaster and a booklet complete with the full festival schedule and notes for each screening. I can’t fully express how invaluable a resource that booklet was during my time at Cinefest. I referred to the schedule numerous times, negotiating with myself about what I would see and when I would take breaks. The show notes were written by the organizers, often by the person providing the film for the screening. In some cases the films were so rare and so little was known about them that original newspaper reviews were offered instead.

Projectionist stand

The films screened at Cinefest came in all shapes and sizes and formats. We saw shorts, feature-length films and clips and these were projected in 16mm, 35mm and digital format from a DVD player or computer. Digital projection proved to be the most problematic. Some of those screenings had to be restarted a few times or postponed. This caused some of the attendees to grumble in frustration while others cheered for the triumph of old technology over new.

Another view of the projectionist stand.
We are all applauding the fine work the projectionists did during the festival.

Much of what was shown at Cinefest came from personal collections and from sources like the UCLA Film and Television Archive, MOMA, the Library of Congress and more. The audience members of Cinefest have very discriminating tastes and they’re difficult to please. Many of the attendees had encyclopedia-like knowledge of early cinema and personal libraries that rival some archives. Cinefest regulars want to see something old, something rare and something they’ve never seen before. With an audience that picky the festival organizers really have to dig deep to unearth some treasures to keep the regulars happy.

Gerry Orlando, president of the Syracuse Cinephile Society & head of Cinefest

The majority of folks who attend Cinefest are in the 50+ crowd. One of the reasons the festival is ending is that the audience and the organizers are aging out and there isn’t much interest from the younger generation to keep the festival going. This is a very specialist audience with an interest in rare treasures and old technology.

Cinefest screening room

Having only been to the TCM Classic Film Festival, Cinefest was a whole new world to me and I couldn’t help but compare the two festivals to each other. Although I carried my TCM festival bag proudly, I kept mostly mum about my imminent trip to that festival because I could tell straight off the bat that many Cinefest goers didn’t look to kindly on that other much more lavish festival. In fact one of the presenters, who shall remain nameless, went so far as to say that TCM festival-goers think Humphrey Bogart only made one movie, Casablanca. This presenter was trying to compliment the Cinefest attendees by pointing out how advanced their level of knowledge is compared to your average classic movie fan. But it still hurt to hear. I consider myself a student of film, not quite an expert, with much left to learn and experience. But I'm not ignorant. The two festivals have very different things to offer and I enjoyed both for what they were. While there wasn't much love for TCM's festival here, I did overhear many folks say they loved the other Hollywood classic film festival, Cinecon.

Leonard Maltin at the Cinefest Auction

The 4-day schedule ran from 9 am until midnight with the final day Sunday on a shorter schedule. If you had the mental stamina you could catch everything on offer because there were no conflicts. I didn’t have that kind of stamina so I was a bit more particular of what I gave my energy to. Most festival attendees prioritized their schedules to catch their must-sees and would move in-and-out of screenings. Most of the time the room was packed. Leonard Maltin, a Cinefest regular of many years, could be spotted at various screenings or mingling with the crowd. I also spotted Jan-Christopher Horak of UCLA, Ron Hutchinson of the Vitaphone Project, author Richard Barrios and other notable figures in the classic film community. I also saw Nora of Nitrate Diva and her mom Colleen as well as Beth Ann of Spellbound by Movies. The last Cinefest included a group of talented silent film accompanists and I got to chat with Jeff Rapsis. He performs a lot in my area and I’ve been to several of his performances.

Line-up of Cinefest's silent film accompanists

The person I was most excited to see however was my good friend Jonas. He’s the main reason I came to Cinefest. Jonas, who blogs at All Talking! All Singing! All Dancing!, has been a friend of mine for several years but because I live in the Boston area and he lives in Stockholm, Sweden we had never met in person. Our friendship started when we both posted tributes to Anita Page when she passed away in 2008 and culminated with meeting at the last Cinefest. It was such a delight to be able to spend quality time with him over meals and during screenings. He made attending Cinefest such a blast.

Jonas and Raquel meet for the first time.

As I left Cinefest I realized how many folks didn’t want to let this festival go. At breakfast on the last day, I saw Holiday Inn staff hugging Cinefest folks. As a newbie, I didn’t want to let go of this festival either. My husband chatted with Leonard Maltin and he hinted at a possible continuation of Cinefest. Perhaps it’ll live on in another way.

Me on day two of Cinefest
In part 2 I'll be discussing what films and presentations I saw at Cinefest. Stay tuned!

Thursday, March 12, 2015

My thoughts on the 2015 TCM Classic Film Festival Schedule

Robert Osborne at last year's TCM Classic Film Fesitval

On Monday TCM released the much anticipated (and rather late) festival schedule. Reactions were mixed however when everyone had time to analyze the full schedule and make their selections. I’m thrilled by many of the festival offerings, most notably the special events and guests, but I did notice fewer conflicts this year because many of the films were a pass for me. I consider this a blessing because it gives me a lot more flexibility and a lot less heartbreak.

Folks online have complained about an increase of newer films added to the line-up as well as some missed opportunities. There has been a slight shift but as my Excel chart below shows it isn’t very much. Most of the films still cluster in the 1930-1970 time frame and this year TCM tested the waters with films from the edges of film history, most notably from the 1910s and the 1990s. There was a shift in which titles selected and which ones got the big venues and prime spots. The term “classic” is very subjective and everyone has a different definition. While I like to see the older classics, my husband likes to see the more modern ones. Our festival experiences are very different from each others because of that.

Quick count by decade and festival year. Not a final tally.

I think the 2015 festival has a lot to offer and personally I’m very excited about it! Looking back at previous festivals the 2013’s schedule was really the best in terms of films selected but this one has even better events. My biggest disappointment was the cancellation of the Spartacus (1960) restoration event. I was hoping to see this film on the big screen, possibly with Kirk Douglas in attendance, but it wasn’t meant to be. Also, actress and singer Monica Lewis has been reaching out to the folks at TCM for years but keeps getting overlooked for the festival. TCM missed an opportunity having her there this year at the screening of Earthquake (1974) which features Lewis and was produced by her late husband Jennings Lang.

I noticed TCM was much later in their communications this time around. We knew very little from the start and even with an earlier festival the information was released much later than in the two previous years. TCM’s restructuring as well as the hiring of a new top-level executive might have had some big effects on the festival and how it was put together.

The TCM Classic Film Festival can be compared to a subscription box much like Birchbox, Quarterly, etc. You pay up front, not exactly knowing all of what you’ll get but having a rough idea of what to expect. The element of surprise makes it a gamble. You could be very happy with what you get or you could be disappointed. You trust the brand to deliver but still cross your fingers that they do.

This year I’ll be covering the 2015 TCM Classic Film Festival as a member of the media and below is what I plan to cover. I have back-ups for everything and my focus is primarily on seeing the special guests. My picks are subject to change.

Too Late for Tears (1949) - Photo Source

Opening night red carpet event for The Sound of Music (1965)

Too Late for Tears (1949)
Special Guest: Eddie Muller of the Film Noir Foundation

Ann-Margret in The Cincinnati Kid (1965)


Christopher Plummer Imprint Ceremony
Special Guest: Christopher Plummer, Shirley MacLaine, William Shatner and more.

Reign of Terror (1949)
Special Guest: Norman Lloyd

The Cincinnati Kid (1965)
Special Guest: Ann-Margret

Fonda The Actor, Fonda the Man Panel
Special Guest: Peter Fonda

On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969)
Special Guest: George Lazenby

The Apartment (1960)

A Conversation with Norman Lloyd
hosted by Ben Mankiewicz (to be televised at a later date)

1776 (1972)
Special Guests: William Daniels, Ken Howard and Peter H. Hunt

The Apartment (1960)
Special Guest: Shirley MacLaine

The Loved One (1965)
Special Guest: Robert Morse

The Diary of Anne Frank (1959) - Photo Source
The Diary of Anne Frank (1959)
Special Guests: Millie Perkins & Diane Baker

TCM repeats earlier screenings so I left this spot open as a surprise

Marriage Italian Style (1964)
Special Guest: Sophia Loren

Malcolm X (1992)

My husband has a Palace Pass this year and here are a few of the events he’s excited about.

Malcolm X (1992)
Special Guest: Spike Lee

The Man Who Would Be King (1975)
Special Guest: Christopher Plummer

On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969)
Christopher Plummer Imprint Ceremony
The Cincinnati Kid (1965)

The Apartment (1960)

Here are some films I might not be able to see at the festival but I highly recommend:

42nd Street (1933)
Adam’s Rib (1949)
Calamity Jane (1953)
Imitation of Life (1959)
My Man Godfrey (1936)
The Philadelphia Story (1940)
Steamboat Bill Jr. (1928)
They Won’t Forget (1937)
Why Be Good? (1929)

What are your picks for the 2015 TCM Classic Film Festival?

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

A Custom-Made Classic Film Calendar

A few months ago I was shopping online for a movie themed calendar. My search was in vain. What's available on the market is not great and for classic film fans like me the only calendar available is the same movie posters one that's been recycled year after year.

I wrote to Kate Gabrielle on the chance that she might be able to create a custom classic film calendar suited to my movie tastes. And what I got was beyond my wildest dreams!

I emailed Kate some of my ideas. I picked some of my favorite stars and a couple of my favorite films, suggested a couple of themes and an emphasis on New Year's because it's my favorite holiday. She put together a fantastic calendar and I'm very happy to share it with you.

Kate's work is incredible. I've commissioned a few works from her, including this excellent painting of Norma Shearer, and her Flapperdoodle artwork plus her excellent classic film Christmas cards adorn my cubicle at work.

I encourage you to visit Kate's shop and blog to see her amazing work. Now on to the calendar!

Kate Gabrielle
Bachelor Mother (1939)
 Design by Kate Gabrielle

Kate Gabrielle
 Sidney Poitier
Design by Kate Gabrielle

Kate Gabrielle
Robert Mitchum
Design by Kate Gabrielle

Kate Gabrielle
Doris Day
Design by Kate Gabrielle

Kate Gabrielle
Bonita Granville
Design by Kate Gabrielle

Kate Gabrielle
Joan Blondell
Design by Kate Gabrielle
Kate Gabrielle
Susan Peters
Design by Kate Gabrielle
Kate Gabrielle
George Sanders
Design by Kate Gabrielle

Kate Gabrielle
Edward G. Robinson
Design by Kate Gabrielle
Kate Gabrielle
The Rat Pack/Ocean's 11 (1960)
Design by Kate Gabrielle

Kate Gabrielle
Kirk Douglas
Design by Kate Gabrielle
Kate Gabrielle
Norma Shearer
Design by Kate Gabrielle

What did you think of the calendar? If you had your own custom calendar made, which of your favorite stars would be featured?

Popular Posts

 Twitter   Instagram   Facebook