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TCMFF: Special Home Edition in Review

April 24, 2020

Classic movie fans were crushed with the news on March 12 that the traditional TCMFF festival was cancelled. But being TCM, I (and probably many other fans) had a feeling they wouldn’t just let those dates come and go without doing anything. So, as per usual, TCM went above and beyond to come up a Plan B: A Special Home Edition of the fest, taking place on-air and virtually the same dates TCMFF was to roll into Hollywood, April 16-19.

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Given that there was only a little over a month from the announcement until the start of the special edition, I can only imagine how much work and time the team spent transitioning from an in-person to an on-air experience – we’re talking programming, filming new intros, securing and scheduling guests and other special commentary, creating exclusive content, digging into the archives for videos from past festivals and so much more. That’s a lot of effort. And the fact that the team basically created a whole new festival with a brand new set of films that was 90% different than the originally conceived programming is mind-blowing – just five of the 45 selections presented were set to play at TCMFF 2020; the other 40 screened at previous festivals. That’s like having the whole event planned for months (which they did), and throwing it all out the window (which they had to). Then starting from scratch. And shifting to a new type of experience and delivery system, including on-air and social, for the fans. Heck, I’m exhausted just thinking of all that work and I performed 0% of it!


As usual, my intentions for TCMFF were grand (as my preview attests), but the reality, well, was a little less so. When all was said and done, I managed to watch about nine movies and presentations from start to finish, including new-to-me flicks like 1976's Network (which was terrifying to see for the first time in 2020!) and beloved classics like 1933's Baby Face (which I went way overboard live tweeting about). Since I was unable to shut the outside world out and devote my full days and focus to the event as I normally would, I found myself keeping TCM on in the background as I checked in every now and then while getting some work done – or at least attempting to. With that said, this post will focus more on the experience of the virtual fest and less on the movies themselves. 


Yes, I still dressed up every day - pass and all! (Shirt by Kate Gabrielle.)

Being confined to one space – and in my situation, one room, because I only have one TV in my apartment – provided different challenges than the regular fest. Instead of dashing from venue to venue and strategically maneuvering the schedule, I did… well, the opposite. My daily movement involved walking in between my bedroom, living room, and kitchen, which is devastatingly little. There were no huge decisions to make, other than trying to get up early or stay up late to catch a movie live with the EST folks, and I had time to – gasp! – eat full meals.


But even still, the proceedings possessed that familiar hectic vibe, albeit in a different way. Yes, one movie aired at a time, but between the taped Q&As from previous festivals, the virtual interviews, the featurettes, and all the wonderful content on social media, it was still impossible to catch it all in real-time because there was simply so much going on. Multiple viewing platforms took the place of multiple theaters – from on-air to Instagram live to Twitter and more. (One major difference being it’s easier to catch up on most of it, including the posts on social and the movies on Watch TCM!) After two films in a row, I usually found myself needing to stretch my legs and take in a change of scenery – in other words, walk into another room. Seriously, sitting on a couch all day is much harder than I thought! (Though I am very grateful to be able to stay at home during this crazy time!)

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Dropping some Barbara Stanwyck attitude in for good measure (from Baby Face).

As usual, there were new-to-me experiences, too. Aside from catching flicks I’ve never seen before (Network, Metropolis, The Magnificent Ambersons, I know, I know), I also engaged with TCM on social in new ways, from watching and interacting with live broadcasts on Instagram with Ben Mankiewicz and Dave Karger (the second in conversation with Academy Museum Director Bill Kramer) to participating more on social. Though I love movies, I’m not one to binge watch TCM, nor do I participate in live tweets often. (For full disclosure, I generally try to focus on one screen at a time and really only feel comfortable chiming in if I’m very familiar with the movie, but I appreciate and applaud the sense of community that live tweeting and #TCMParty creates, even if I don’t partake often myself.) However, I found myself engaging in both this time, which was a nice change. While I enjoyed interacting online with familiar faces that I see every year in Hollywood, it was a joy to chat with – and just see! – all the people who joined in the conversation and fun on social. Not to mention, it reminded me that I should do this a lot more, because there are a ton of like-minded fans out there! Simply following the #TCMFF or #TCMParty hashtags reinforces that sense of community immensely, which is absolutely lovely to see.


Though those four days still flew by and I still woke up way too early to catch the morning programming, the Special Home Edition of the fest just wasn’t the same as the real thing. That’s not to complain or belittle all the work that went into it – I am grateful to have been able to partake in this alternate version of the fest and interact with TCM in new ways – but I do look forward to the time when fans can converge in Hollywood again. However, the grand attention paid to all the details of this shared experience and the great strides made to bring semblances of the regular event to fans, going so far as to create queue cards for different rooms of a home (!), brought the ~feel~ of the festival as close to us as possible.

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What a genius idea! (By the talented Lora Stocker.)

In the end, I was left with a profound sense of comfort, community, and gratitude during a time when we could all use it. And for that, I thank you TCM.

thanks for stopping by!

I See a Dark Theater is a website dedicated to classic movie-going—and loving—in the City of Angels. Whether it's coverage on screenings, special presentations, or Q&As around Los Angeles that you're looking for, or commentary on the wonderful and sometimes wacky world of classic cinema, you've come to the right place for a variety of pieces written with zeal, awe, and (occasionally) wit. Enjoy.

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