When Turner Classic Movies announced its popular film festival in Los Angeles would be canceled, yet another public gathering that wouldn’t take place, there was a different feeling in the air. The event, which has taken place every April for the last decade, gives fans of the network and old Hollywood the chance to briefly feel like a movie star, watching glittering black-and-white or Technicolor in legendary movie palaces like Grauman’s Chinese Theatre or the Egyptian.
As the late TCM host Robert Osborne was known to mention, TCM is a salve for audiences not just when they need to escape a long day. Audiences have been known to seek solace with the network to cope with the loss of loved ones, job loss, or medical operations. It’s a welcome respite where fans don’t just know the hosts, but consider them to be friends. And this extends to the festival where the hosts are out in force, mingling with attendees. To be on the streets of Hollywood with TCM fans is to be part of a welcoming atmosphere of friendliness, where the boundaries that often separate us, for a moment, are ignored.
This is to say that the cancellation of the festival, for many, felt like the final nail in the coffin. For once, TCM couldn’t provide a relief from the world’s issues. If anything, the world had invaded TCM and temporarily waylaid it. But the network offered an inventive new way to at least attempt to give people the best of both worlds. The TCM Classic Film Festival Special Home Edition, taking place this weekend, gathers both features that played at past festivals and a few of the titles already announced to screen this year.
In-between are presentations of TCM’s Live From the Classic Film Festival series, wherein famous stars like Eva Marie Saint and Faye Dunaway are interviewed in intimate settings by TCM’s hosts, vintage footage of Robert Osborne conducting Q&As and rare footage that pre-screened for audiences at past festivals, like footage from the 1954 premiere of “A Star is Born” that aired prior to TCM’s inaugural festival screening of the feature. The hosts and various TCM behind-the-scenes folks have also been available on social media, conducting Instagram livestreams, and fans, many disappointed they won’t be seeing friends, have scheduled special mixers on Zoom, all dressed in their finest duds.
In a way, this is an attempt to make lemonade out of an event that rapidly transitioned from a physical film festival to a strictly televised one, and it works. There are many people who are unable to attend the festival in Los Angeles, and to get a glimpse of these Q&A — many of which have been exclusive to TCM’s subscription fanclub, TCM Backlot — gives them the opportunity to comfortably and safely engage in the once-in-a-lifetime opportunities the festival provides. The festival, one of the few to truly bend over backwards for their disabled attendees, are unintentionally using their Special Home Edition to give a truly inclusive look at the festival.
That being said, for those who have experienced the festival in person, there’s room for growth with an event like this were it to continue or be placed in conjunction with the physical event itself. Considering the Governor of California has maintained that public gatherings might be impossible to do in the state fill late in 2021, a future edition of this televised fest is a real possibility. As TCM’s SVP of Programming and Production Charles Tabesh said during a recent conference call with journalists about the home version, there were logistical issues with showing some festival films on television. It’s unclear what that specifically means but it’s safe to assume he meant the five features slated to play the festival this year. Were this to continue into next year the hope is that more original features, with new content pre-recorded by the stars and hosts in advance, would be possible. Odds are the benefits of time would be in their favor for future events like this.
It is hard to watch the Special Home Edition and not feel there’s something missing. The lack of new content adds a dated film that’s not unknown with the network, but much of what the festival sells is the rush of classic film events and activities. Tabesh and General Manager Pola Changnon said during the press conference that they are open to audience reception during this home version to determine if it should continue concurrently with the actual festival and that could open up the possibility of making festival weekend a live event on the TCM channel, with live footage captured from locations like the Egyptian Theatre or the Roosevelt Hotel. This would lead to questions of where exactly TCM Backlot would fit in as, again, much of the festival footage ends up their first, but it could be akin to watching a sporting event live and sell the festival for future attendees in real time while giving access to those unable to go.
And while festivals like SXSW, threatened with huge financial losses after being canceled, are struggling to crunch the numbers to see if a 2021 event is possible, Changnon says TCM is financially secure. The hope is that WarnerMedia, already prepping their own streaming service with HBO Max, could invest even more in the festival and make the Home Version and the physical festivals grander so that everyone wins.
So, while we’re all stuck inside our homes and not mingling in Los Angeles together, there’s a hope that this Special Home Edition, while far from perfect, is a sign of bigger and better things to come. With more lead-time for next year’s festival odds are there’s already a backup plan in the works if the 2021 festival can’t happen. Here’s to hoping that if there’s a 2021 TCM Classic Film Festival Special Home Edition it will feel just as welcoming as being on Hollywood Boulevard with your closest film friends.