TCL Chinese Theatre, Hollywood, CA March 25, 2015 1:30 PM PDST
TCM Host Ben Mankiewicz, TCM General Manager Jennifer Dorian, Senior Vice President of Programming Charles Tabesh, and Managing Director Genevieve McGillicuddy kicked-off the 2015 TCM Classic Film Festival with a conference outlining some surprising changes to the festival this year, as well as some insights into what the year ahead holds for TCM.
Tabesh had some of the most exciting news to share regarding the year ahead for the network, including a month long spotlight on Orson Welles, celebrating his 100th birthday in May, as well as a planned 100th birthday celebration for the Chairman of the Board (If you don’t know who that is, you’re on your own) in December. Regarding Welles, Tabesh was able to shed light on the difficulty and negotiation that has to happen in order for some of the more allusive prints to make it either into the festival or on the network. Chimes at Midnight, a lifetime’s work of a very personal nature for the Citizen Kane director was initially dismissed by critics, but upon retrospect is considered one of his greatest achievements. And as goes with most Hollywood curios, Chimes has been in ownership dispute for decades, keeping good prints out of the public eye until recently, when Tabesh and team were able to secure the rights for this festival’s screening from the Welles Estate itself. Take a peek at what The Retro Set staff members are seeing at this year’s festival here.
Tabesh also revealed his own personal Moby Dick, the great white whale of a film he’s always wanted to show, El Cid, but has been tied up in ownership under Harvey Weinstein himself. One of the press attendees admitted he had just interviewed Weinstein the night before, and had he known, could’ve started the negotiation process.
The TCM team is very excited about Sony’s restoration of the director’s cut of 1776, a cult film that has always been one of the great under appreciated musicals. Ben Mankiewicz amusingly referenced a scene in the film that displays a fountain prominently, that turns out to be the same fountain from the title sequence in Friends.
When asked how the team comes up with the festival’s yearly themes, Tabesh admitted Managing Director McGillicuddy came to him just days following last year’s festival with several ideas, and through the process of a “back and forth” between staff members; the themes are born, and then the films are chosen. However, when something stupendous comes to the fore, like the opportunity to have Shirley MacLaine in attendance to celebrate her acting debut, all bets are off. The staff always tries to keep things fluid, to make room for some of the remarkable milestones that present themselves.
Another “which came first – chicken or the egg” question about the festival booking process; whether talent is secured first then films found to match them or vice versa; and it turns out the team books about 70% of the films with the festival theme, or the important relevance of the film first; the other 30% when a celebrity comes aboard, they will try and tailor specific films to match that celebrity; whether it be personally significant to them, or something not seen regularly by the public. Tabesh admitted if Dustin Hoffman were not appearing this year, Lenny may not have been at the top of their list, but there’s a perfect synchronicity being able to present the two. As for Maclaine, they were all very excited that she wanted The Apartment and The Children’s Hour screened, although Tabesh admitted if she had wanted Terms of Endearment — who’s to argue?
As has been the focus of great debate between bloggers, journalists and attendees, every year, with 2015 being no exception, the question was presented as to what TCM defines as a “classic.” The team was unanimous in their belief that a “classic” is an ephemeral, liquid term that is not just one period of film; and that the context of the film is what gives it heft, and substance and importance. While one of Katherine Hepburns last films, Warren Beatty’s Love Affair is by no means a TCM staple, if they were showing a festival of Hepburn films, they would include that as part of her final canon. As Mankiewicz pointed out, you wouldn’t just randomly find Love Affair in rotation, because that wouldn’t serve the network as a film representing its tenets.
General Manager Dorian use the term “on-ramping,” which is a perfect way to describe their ideology of bringing new viewers aboard via commonly known and consumed fare (Raiders of the Lost Ark, Out of Sight) at this year’s fest as a way to carry them through the threshold and help them discover the greater, more nourishing films of our past.
The subject also helped transition to the people who are TCM, the staff and the executives, who at the very basic level, all have an unabiding love for film. McGillicuddy revealed some fascinating statistics about the staff’s make-up. Out of their (surprisingly) small staff of 45, 69% studied film in college. As she put it, these are people with a “deep passion.” Read our article about TCM Staff’s personal festival memories here.
“Passion” and “Community” were two of the buzzwords circulating amongst the group, and there’s no doubt they had their intended effect. The members of the press left the conference feeling a community with each other, and definitely a passion for the coming year at TCM, and another successful entry into their unforgettable Classic Film Festivals.