An Interview with Cinecon President Stan Taffel
August 1, 2019
The Cinecon Classic Film Festival returns to Hollywood August 29 through September 2 with close to 50 rare shorts and features, special celebrity guests, and an outstanding memorabilia show. I had the chance to ask Cinecon President Stan Taffel a few questions about the festival as they gear up for another exciting year celebrating unusual and overlooked classic movies.
Photo courtesy Stan Taffel.
Kim Luperi: This year marks the 55th edition of Cinecon. How did you become involved in the organization?
Stan Taffel: Being a lifelong fan of silent and precode films, it was a no brainer to become involved in Cinecon. I was brought into helping in 1998. I went from projectionist, secretary, treasurer, Vice President and in 2016, I became President.
KL: For those readers who may be more familiar with TCM's film festival, can you tell me how Cinecon is different?
ST: The major difference between us and TCM is this: If you want to see Casablanca or The Wizard of Oz, TCM is for you; if you want to see the harder to see films with these performers, Cinecon is your festival.
We showcase the once lost, restored, forgotten and early films that have been relegated to the film vaults and don’t get a chance to be seen in a theater venue. Five days of screenings where you can see virtually everything we show if you have the stamina. We have a few special programs that coincide with film showings but other than that, it’s all there for everyone to enjoy.
Our silent films have live musical accompaniment. The opening night gala features a 19 piece orchestra accompanying a restored silent feature. Our dealers rooms are packed with so much memorabilia, it’s often a case of not enough money and too many items for our attendees.
Since taking on the presidency, I’ve added a few things to Cinecon that have become very popular. We are indeed fortunate to be able to project Archival Nitrate films. We call this segment “Saturday Nitrate Fever” and our attendees pack the theater to see a film in this obsolete film format.
The other program that excites me and has elicited new attendees to Cinecon is our KINECON AT CINECON. It is a selection of early, rare and live television shows that were preserved by recording a television signal at the time of its original broadcast on film. As an archivist of these programs, it has been great to see how popular these programs have become. As a result, I’ve received many Kinescopes from people who have entrusted me to preserve them. Just like films, these television shows need to be preserved, restored and seen.
Taffel with Eva Marie Saint in 2018, after she received Cinecon's Legacy Award. Photo courtesy Stan Taffel.
KL: I'm always so excited for the unveiling of the Cinecon slate, because I inevitably only recognize a handful of titles. Has the festival always focused on hard-to-see movies?
ST: We have an unofficial motto: If it’s rare, we’ll screen it!
KL: Can you tell me what goes into programming Cinecon, especially since so many of the titles featured are not widely known? How do you work with studios and companies in securing these movies? Do they ever come to you with films they 'find' in the vaults?
ST: My team has a wealth of knowledge, each one having their own “wants” or films they’ve never seen. Each year we receive films from many archives and institutions and there are a number of them that we haven’t seen before. Some are completely unknown to us and some we have wanted to see but haven’t had an opportunity. We are indeed blessed to have good relationships with these many film repositories and they in turn want these films to be seen and appreciated.
Taffel interviewing Norman Lloyd at Cinecon. Photo courtesy Stan Taffel.
KL: Has the Cinecon team found the festival harder to program as the years go by, particularly on the film front?
ST: Happily, we are always finding too many films to pack into the five day festival.
KL: Do you have a favorite moment from the festival you'd like to share?
ST: When we honor celebrities that once were immensely popular and now have long been out of the spotlight, their gratitude in having another moment to know that they haven’t been forgotten is most gratifying. I’ve seen some of these stars of yesteryear tear up when they see and hear the reactions of our audiences to their work on the screen receive standing ovations at Cinecon. It’s our way of letting them know that they are still beloved, still relevant and that their career made a difference. Many of them come back year after year to see the films and meet the fans.
The other thing I enjoy is having our attendees introduce the films at the theater. It puts the festival in their hands. It’s their festival and they feel a personal vested interest in it. This way they get to have their very own Robert Osbourne moment. It’s one of the sweetest things to see. We are a great big family and this act of letting them run the show typifies that family feeling.
Taffel with Marsha Hunt after she received the inaugural Cinecon Legacy Award in 2016. Photo courtesy Stan Taffel.
KL: Is there one 'Holy Grail' movie you really want to showcase at the festival, or one special guest you'd really love to honor?
ST: I think I’ll reserve that answer because I wouldn’t want to “jinx” it. A holy grail film is the next Lost film that becomes extant.
KL: Do you see Cinecon changing at all in the future, especially considering the shift we've had from film to digital?
ST: As long as there are projectors and films to run on them, I don’t see much change. We do show films in digital formats and will continue to do so if that’s all that’s available. Showing the films and getting them out to the public is the key.
Thank you to Stan Taffel for this wonderful interview, and thanks to Mike Cahill for helping set it up. If you'll be in the Los Angeles area over Labor Day weekend, I highly recommend attending Cinecon. For more information, visit their website: http://www.cinecon.org/