Dates Announced for 2016 TCM Classic Film Festival + 5 Ways to Keep it Fresh

MMIn Billy Wilder’s 1955 comedy THE SEVEN YEAR ITCH, a man begins to lose interest in his spouse of seven years and seeks out greener romantic pastures – in the (shapely) form of Marilyn Monroe.

Turner Classic Movies hopes film buffs won’t do the same with the TCM Classic Film Festival, which today announced its seventh annual edition, scheduled for April 28 – May 1, 2016 in Hollywood.

Still, the network appears to be taking no chances, revealing the date far earlier than in the past (last year they announced in October for a March event) and holding the line on ticket prices after a $50 hike at all pass levels in 2015. TCM has also assured fans that beloved on-air personality Robert Osborne – the face of the network since its 1994 launch – will return as “official host” after missing the 2015 event. The 83-year-old film historian was also absent from the channel following treatment for a “minor health procedure” earlier this year, but has (thankfully) returned to his duties.

Films and guests have not yet been announced and likely won’t be for some time. But the historic TCL Chinese Theatre (formerly Grauman’s) and Egyptian Theatre on Hollywood Blvd will once again be key venues and the Roosevelt Hotel will again serve as home base, with a schedule of daily happenings at the “Club TCM” event space. Discounted guest rooms are also available at the Roosevelt, but they’ll be gone by the time you read this. (More hotel suggestions are here.)

Passes for the 2016 TCM Film Fest go on sale November 19, with an exclusive online-only pre-sale for Citi cardmembers beginning November 17 at 10 a.m. (ET).

The top tier Spotlight Pass (aka The Charles Foster Kane Pass) offers “priority entry to all events” (thanks to a separate line) as well as admission to an “exclusive” opening night party and meet-and-greet events with Osborne, fellow host Ben Mankiewicz, and celebrity guests for $1,649. The Essential Pass provides full access to all TCMFF events (excluding the opening night party) for $749. The Classic Pass gives you everything except the opening night red-carpet screening for $599. And the $299 Palace Pass grants access to Grauman’s, the Egyptian and poolside screenings at the Roosevelt Friday through Sunday. (Walk-up admissions are also available to some screenings, but usually not to the panels or special events.)

BusterThe 2016 theme will be Moving Pictures, promising a collection of rousing, inspiring movies “that set our love of cinema in motion.” According to TCM’s press release, selections may include coming-of-age pictures, tearjerkers, sports dramas, and religious epics that elevate our spirits.

If you read this site or follow me on Twitter you know I’ve attended every TCMFF since its inception, and that I’m relentlessly vocal in my support of it (and pretty much everything TCM does). But the 2015 TCMFF was my least favorite so far, and, based on both attendance and conversations with other longtime attendees, I don’t think I was alone in that sentiment.

While the 2014 TCMFF sold out in record time – Essential passes were gone in just five hours and Spotlight a week later – passes were still available just days before the 2015 event began. (TCM doesn’t release the number of passes sold, so I can’t do an apples-to-apples comparison.) Smaller crowds were to be expected after the excitement of the network’s 20th birthday celebration in 2014, but some of the fall-off in 2015 may have been preventable.

And so, here are 5 things TCM can do to keep the Seven Year TCMFF Itch at bay.

1aDon’t over-emphasize the theme.

I have enormous respect for the TCM programmers; they consistently make my life a better place. But, in my opinion, the 2015 theme History According to Hollywood became more of an intellectual exercise than past organizing concepts have been.

For most of us, TCMFF is an emotional experience, an opportunity to leave the real world for four days in another time and place. Past themes like Family (2014), Journeys (2013), Style (2012), and Music (2011) were malleable enough to be all-inclusive, while still providing necessary programming structure.

Happily, the 2016 theme Moving Pictures is similar. It has the potential to be more magical than literal, because we can be moved in a variety of ways. And that’s good news, particularly for someone who found fewer difficult choices in 2015 TCMFF schedule than ever before.

2aKeep it “classic.”

“In the right context, there is no cutoff,” TCM’s Senior VP of Programming Charles Tabesh said at the 2015 TCMFF when asked to define classic.

“(It’s classic) if Charlie says so!” general manager Jennifer Dorian added, cracking up a bunch of film bloggers who know how controversial a question that can be.

I agree, but for many of us who spend thousands of dollars to immerse ourselves in a live, in-person TCM experience, we don’t want “contemporary” films intruding on the party, even if they make good intellectual sense.

For the record: I love movies from all eras, and I would enjoy watching any film that has ever played at TCMFF (with the possible exception of GREASE, particularly the singalong version). But there’s a particular type of film that makes an Old Movie Weirdo want to fly across the country (or the world) to watch with like-minded friends, and a handful of titles screened in 2015 did not fall in that category. (Again, just my opinion. Feel free to disagree in the comments.)

3aCelebrate the obscure.

Along the same lines, the cinematic “deep cuts” at TCMFF (like rare noir and Pre-Codes) are often relegated to the smallest auditorium (the 177-seat Chinese Multiplex theater 4), creating an inevitable mad rush among the hardcores every single time, while higher-profile films play to half-full theaters. And while we may get a second chance to see some of those rarities in the TBA slots on Sunday, it’s often without the special guests that appeared during the scheduled screening.

Technology allowing, I’d like to see more “discoveries” play in larger rooms. Just like with TCM’s brilliantly curated on-air programming, this is an opportunity to create new fans, not just play to the base.

4aMake it personal. 

Each year, TCMFF becomes more about the personal connections I make – both among my fellow attendees and the 300+ people who work behind the scenes.

It’s great to spend time with those folks at opening and closing night parties and while waiting on line for screenings, but TCM needs to work more opportunities for dedicated social interaction into the schedule. Events like the opening day trivia contest are great ways to make screening buddies and find new friends with similar interests. We need more of those, and more creative methods of interaction throughout the weekend, like the trading card swaps at the recent Disney D23 convention. (Hat tip to Laura Grieve for her D23 coverage.)

For many of us, this is the only weekend off the year when we can share something we’ve loved our entire lives. TCM needs to make the most of that.

5aContinue to champion 35 mm.

In 2015 I saw 20 movies at the Festival, 15 of them projected entirely or in part on 35mm film. In fact, TCMFF has screened more movies on film than digital formats every year, and the number of film screenings actually increased this year compared to 2014. Where else do you see that happening?

“(We’re committed to) showing films on film,” festival managing director Genevieve MacGillicuddy told me at the 2013 TCMFF.

That’s a huge selling point for many purists, and I hope it continues. And while they’re at it, upgrade the projection capabilities at the Roosevelt Hotel poolside screenings, where films are presented on DVD. Unless it’s GREASE, then I don’t particularly care.

See you all in Hollywood in 2016.


About willmckinley

I'm a New York City-based writer, video producer, print journalist, radio/podcast host, and social media influencer. I've been a guest on Turner Classic Movies (interviewed by Robert Osborne), NPR, Sirius Satellite Radio, and the official TCM podcast. My byline has appeared in and more than 100 times in the pages of NYC alt weeklies like The Villager and Gay City News. I'm also a social media copywriter for Sony's getTV and a contributor to four film-and-TV-related books: "Monster Serial," "Bride of Monster Serial," "Taste the Blood of Monster Serial," and "Remembering Jonathan Frid."
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14 Responses to Dates Announced for 2016 TCM Classic Film Festival + 5 Ways to Keep it Fresh

  1. Michael Reed says:

    I share your lack of enthusiasm for Grease; although, I’m not brave enough to admit it publicly. Whoops! I guess I just did!

  2. Great article, Will…I was laughing and nodding in agreement while I was reading it. Can’t wait to catch up next spring in Hollywood!

  3. Laura says:

    This is absolutely spot-on, Will. I agreed with it all but especially about the ongoing frustration of the pre-Code and film noir treasures always playing to packed crowds in smallest theaters, with lots of folks shut out, while the movies everyone has easier access to aren’t nearly so full.

    Many thanks for the mention of my D23 Expo coverage. We had such a good time with the trading cards — it was more about the experience of having fun interacting with fellow fans than what we actually brought home (which, let’s face it, will sit in an envelope with other Expo souvenirs ). (Only problem was when for reasons I won’t explain there was a mob scene when last “rare” card was handed out by Expo staff and security had to shut it down LOL.) I do like the suggestion that TCM find ways to increase interaction. I think things like Kellee asking trivia questions in line was one example of something that got people interacting while we were also in line (2 birds with one stone). Wonder if they can brainstorm other ideas.

    Best wishes,
    Laura (who loves musicals but could probably not be paid to sit through GREASE again, LOL)

  4. Suzan Lowitz says:

    Thank you again for your insightful comments.

    I would also like to see TCM make some volunteer positions available to film professionals. As a below the liner, I was inspired to work in film by the very movies shown, and some of the people I’ve worked with or know through the Industry have been featured guests. And I live in walking distance from the venues. But the passes are too expensive for a freelancer. I would be happy to work and bring my limited expertise, but TCM doesn’t offer alternatives. Sigh.

  5. Totally agree about the social opportunities – it’s weird how close I feel to people I’ve met at the fests and kept in touch with between them – It’s a big part of the whole experience. Can’t wait to do it again – and say hi in person! 😀

  6. I wholeheartedly agree with your comments!! Would love to see some “meet and greet” events with celebrities…not just from AFAR

  7. Will, Great piece as usual. I have mixed feelings on your second point. I do want to see classics, but I do like that they keep a place for a handful (and hopefully it is a handful) of newer classics. Figure that if someone, was working in film in their late 20s/early 30s in the mid-1970s, they are now in *their* mid-70s. Doesn’t it make sense to feature people like that, while they are still around?

    On your third point, having worked comic conventions for more years than I care to admit, small venues can always be a problem. That small 177-seat theater that turns away people for one of the rarities would probably also turn away people for one of the old favorites. Maybe the answer is to ditch the smaller theater in favor of another medium size auditorium. Umm, TCM, hint!

    I wholeheartedly agree with the keep it social point. Hanging out with old and meeting new classic film folks is my favorite thing about TCMFF. Personally, I would like to see Club TCM stay open later. Most of the time it’s closed by the time you get out of the last screening.

    Finally, way with you on the Grease thing.

    • willmckinley says:

      Great point about Club TCM staying open later, Chris. I’m not sure what the logistical ramifications of that are, but it would be great to be able to hang out there post-screenings.

      • Working with hotels can be a challenge, I know. Things that you think would be simple have a way of not turning out to be.
        TCM: Yeah, we were thinking that we’d like to have Club TCM stay open later next year.
        Roosevelt Hotel: Sure, no problem, just give us a U-Haul trailer full of money.
        TCM: Ohhhh Kay, we’ll get back to you on that.

  8. Robby says:

    Completely agree on point 3. Many of classic film fans have seen the popular classics so many times, that it is nice to be able to discover some of the lesser known titles for the first time on the big screen, but that’s not possible when many people are turned away because of the smaller theater sizes. In the past when I’ve attended, with a few exceptions, I’ve usually sought out first new to me films then, because of scheduling conflicts, I would go see a movie I’ve probably seen a hundred times.

  9. Pingback: Changes at TCM – What they Mean for Classic Film Fans | cinematically insane

  10. Wayne Lawless says:

    I have never been to a TCM Festival because I can’t afford the steep prices. Cinecon is there for folks like me.

  11. I also can’t afford the steep prices. But even if I could afford to go, they always have it during a time I can’t get away from work. It’s the same with the cruises. Every three months, we have a quarterly peak and cannot take time time off during these times and it seems the festivals and cruises are always during these times for me. 😦

  12. Great post!

    I would pile onto your point about “Theater 177” and say I’m astounded at how, on this one point, TCM is thoroughly tone deaf. Year after year, TCM repeats this mistake. It’s flabbergasting. I get the issues with booking the theater (I’m a native Angeleno, and aspects of “the business” permeate the city), but we’re way past “what’s available” and “balancing acts” and other such reasons as valid excuses. TCM needs to actually sit down and FIGURE OUT how to move past/grow out of Theater 177. I’ve been to every festival, and it’s the only thing that consistently causes GENUINE UPSET and takes people out of the wonderful Faux World TCM creates for those four days. Theater 177 makes people MAD. Not a good thing.

    My wish for Club TCM is that, in addition to staying open later, it open EARLIER. I know the festival staff uses it as a meeting space in the mornings (I once ran into Ben coming out of one of those meetings and chatted, but I digress), but it’s silly to have pass-holders mingling in the Roosevelt lobby (or the Coffee Bean across the street!) looking at each other funny, wondering who’s really part of the festival. People who are tired, travel weary, or just not interested in the first block should be able to find community in Club TCM. Significant others/travel partners who balk in the a.m. can get up but sit right back down in a place that has a point and that feels like “money’s worth” participation. Every hour that movies are playing, Club TCM should be open to pass-holders. Sell coffee, too. The staff can meet on the second floor, where will call pass-holders check in.

    Thanks, Will!

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