Scheduling the TCMFF 2014 - The Good, The Bad and The Difficult
Not too long ago I had a sit down conversation with TCMFF programmer Charles Tabesh. This was before the final official schedule for the 2014 TCMFF had been released to the public, and now that I’ve had some time to think about our conversation and reflect upon this year’s offerings I’m ready to report my reaction.
The 2014 Turner Classic Movies Film Festival (TCMFF) is less than a week a way. It is a four-day celebration of cinematic history hosted by TCM, the popular cable network devoted to classic movies. Now in its 5th year, the annual celebration of celluloid schedules some of the industry’s most beloved stories the silver screen has ever seen, as well as some of the most under-rated and under appreciated little gems that deserve the love and adoration true fans of the art form are capable of providing.
Like many other classic film devotees, I look forward to this festival like a kid waiting for Christmas, or a birthday. And one of the biggest moments each year is when the full lineup of scheduled films is released. This highly anticipated announcement is always met with accolades as well as with a touch of disappointment. There is excitement for the films everyone wants to see (like an orchestra accompanied silent, or a newly restored crowd pleaser like Double Indemnity), and a bit of regret over the films still yet to make an appearance before the anxiously awaiting fans that long to see their favorite film grace the big screen once again.
It must be a difficult process making those decisions, especially when you know you’re bound to disappoint somebody. And yet, it is a job I envy and would jump at the chance to have. A couple of weeks ago I had the opportunity to sit down and chat with Charles Tabesh, lead programmer for the TCM channel as well as the festival, and the main man responsible for making the tough scheduling decisions. Just like any other TCMFF fan I had some questions about what goes into making the festival every year and Tabesh graciously obliged.
Appropriately, we met in the lobby of the Roosevelt Hotel, the main stomping grounds for the TCMFF. Being less than a month from the big event I expected to see a frazzled and aged looking executive in a suit. But Tabesh surprised me as I barely recognized the calm and young-faced man dressed in jeans and a polo shirt. He appeared as if he hadn’t a care in the world as we proceeded to hold a conversation like good acquaintances. I’m telling you this is a classy yet unassuming guy, and I remember him and his persona more than the interview. Which is really too bad since the recording I made at the time was inadvertently deleted. That’s right, it’s completely gone without a trace on my computer or so-called smart phone. Admittedly, I’m sure it was user error that caused this catastrophe to happen, but that doesn’t take the sting away. What I do remember is Tabesh’s straight forward and unapologetic manner when explaining the methods used to determine the films screened from year to year at the TCMFF.
I am unable to quote Tabesh directly (sigh) but the general rule of thumb is that TCM looks for special restorations and anniversaries as a key factor in deciding a film’s inclusion. It’s a bonus if you get both in one film. Although special guests are wonderful to have, they aren’t usually the instigating factor of the selection process. And since the festival is planned so far ahead of time (they actually start considerations the day after the previous festival closes) it’s difficult, if not impossible to make changes too close to the set dates. For instance, I do remember asking Tabesh if there were any plans to add a Shirley Temple film or two since the beloved star had recently passed away. But the answer came with a regretful shake of the head. Even though this year’s theme is “family” there just wasn’t any way to squeeze in something that wasn’t already under consideration (like when Elizabeth Taylor passed away).
I also remember discussing the selection of the opening night film and the often seemingly vague main theme. Tabesh informed me that the theme is not meant to be an overall connecting factor for the entire roster, but rather a category within the festival just like when there are a lot of noir films or B westerns. This point softened my disappointment with this year’s theme that (when considering all of the films) seemed tenuous at best. And then there’s the opening night film itself. Surely, it must have been anticipated that there would be some mighty impressive star power showing up for last year’s screening of Funny Girl, only to be followed by the disappointment of having no one connected with the film appear. I thought that maybe that was why Oklahoma! was chosen as the opening night film this year - because TCM already has a strong association with lead actress Shirley Jones. But Tabesh reminded me that the very first festival’s opening night film, A Star is Born had no special guests at its screening, and that such a factor will not prevent TCM from making similar opening night selections in the future. And then there’s the fact that special guests are added after the selection process is completed, so basically you get what you get.
Within days after my meeting with Tabesh the complete list of films screening at the 2014 TCMFF came out. My first reaction was somewhat underwhelming. This was due to the fact that I’ve seen nearly every film selected for viewing (including the many films I have reviewed here: Cheaper by the Dozen, Bachelor Mother, The Thin Man, Stagecoach, Double Indemnity, Father of the Bride, City Lights, The Godfather Part II, The Women, Gone with the Wind and The Wizard of Oz). I realize I probably see a lot more old movies than the average festival attendee, but I still couldn’t help feeling disappointed. For the most part I’m left with one selection per screening slot and even then it’s sometimes something I have no interest in seeing, which leaves me feeling a bit let down. But then I remember something Robert Osborne said a long time ago. I don’t remember where or when, and I’m certainly paraphrasing in this case, but he said that no matter what you schedule there’s going to be somebody disappointed that it’s not a film that they want to see. Indeed, you just have to do your best and hope that for the most part, the public is going to like it.
I’m understating it when I say that all in all, Osborne, Tabesh and TCM have been doing pretty well. They’ve been on the air for twenty years, are celebrating their fifth film festival and have no plans of slowing down. In fact, they just keep getting better and better creating new and innovative programming ideas for the channel as well as the festival all the time. Of course, they can’t please all of the people all of the time but I’m sure glad they keep trying. And more than likely I’m going to be complaining some year because there will be too many films I haven’t seen and I won’t be able to see them all. I look forward to that year, and every other TCMFF. As long as Turner Classic Movies keeps planning them, I’ll keep going to them.