Every year before the TCM Classic Film Festival, I see festival newbies planning and speculating about their first visit and I think I'd like to give them the benefit of my experience, but in a more thorough way than can be achieved with a Tweet. So I recorded this short episode with a few words of experience that I hope will be helpful. I also compiled several of my photos from the 2014-19 festivals to make it more of a video essay for my YouTube channel:
I attended the TCM Classic Film Festival for the first time in 2014 and almost immediately I knew I would return. And I have for every festival since. My first year had some bumps. It took a bit of time and a lot of trial and error to learn how to enjoy this event to the fullest.
With so many options, I found it was easy to burn out. But I did learn.
This is how I navigate the TCM Classic Film Festival.
Since it’s a festival made specifically for classic film fans, there’s always going to be a lot you want to see. The first time you look at the schedule can be overwhelming. So many options! Some people will watch a movie in every time block. I quickly learned that was too much for me.
Sometimes you also don’t have a choice about seeing a film. It hasn’t happened to me much, but a theater can fill up before you get in. Be prepared to adjust.
My best strategy has been to pick my must-see films and guests and make sure I line up an hour ahead of time for them. Generally, that is enough time. Once I have made my choices, I try to keep it easy with the rest of the schedule. Having a sense of spontaneity at this festival can lead to wonderful surprises.
Anyone in this fandom knows how bittersweet it can be when it comes to the performers we love. So many of the guests I saw in my early years at the festival have now left us. Taking the time to queue up for them has always been worth it.
In fact, one of the best aspects of the festival is meeting fellow film fanatics in line. As introverted as I am, I’ve had some amazing conversations over the years. This isn’t the grocery store, these are your people, and they all want to talk movies.
My priorities: must-see guests, seeing at least one film in the magnificent Chinese Theater, and catching the wild party that is the Midnight screenings. This framework ensures I get what I want most out of my festival experience.
I’ve always had a lot of snacks with me at the festival, and that’s kept my energy up and my stomach from grumbling in packed screenings, but I’ve learned I need to take time for at least one meal away from the theater each day, both for a break and to have something more substantial than protein bars. The Hollywood and Highland mall has many quick and delicious options. I’m obsessed with the rice bowls at Jinya Ramen Express.
There are a lot of other ways to take a break from screens during the festival too. You can queue up to get a view of the stars from the stands on the red carpet opening night, or line up to watch the honoree of the year put their hand and footprints in cement for the forecourt of the Chinese Theater. I’ve had incredible moments at both events.
I love to spend time at Club TCM in the Roosevelt Hotel because it’s such a calm environment compared to the chaos of Hollywood Boulevard and the multiplex. If only there were a club like this I could go to year round! In addition to the great programming, there’s always lots of art, costumes and film artifacts to admire.
On the other hand, it pays to branch out into the neighborhood. Look for your favorites on the walk of fame, buy way too many books and stills at Larry Edmunds Bookshop, check out the bizarre contraptions and beautiful costumes at the Hollywood Museum.
I like to give my schedule some breathing room so I can wander. One year I decided to get a flattened penny from every machine on Hollywood Boulevard, there were a lot. At the end of my journey, I even taught a trio of Japanese tourists how to use one of the machines.
One of the things that fascinates me about this festival is that there are so many ways to approach it. When my friends and I compare schedules it always blows my mind how different our experiences have been.
The best years, I’ve gone in with a plan and enjoyed the various diversions instead of resisting them. There’s so much going on that there is always something to compensate for the disappointments. It’s always an amazing time.
I’ve made some of my best memories here and that’s why I keep coming back.