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  • Writer's pictureCarrie Specht

TCMFF 2021 Opening Night Toast with the Hosts

Turner Classic Movies has taken the Classic Film Festival virtual. With that comes a whole lot of changes and new experiences, one of them being the opening night celebration hosted by Club TCM. It was different, but was it truly successful?

Today's online event required an RSVP to an emailed invitation. Whether this invitation was extended to all previously registered attendees, I do not know. I suspect not, since the anticipated response rate from such a populace would surely have crashed the site. The in-person opening night party is traditionally a widely attended one, with the brick and mortar Club TCM bursting at the seems. Regardless of the astronomical price of a Roosevelt cocktail ($20!), this opening night tradition has become an increasing fire hazard year after year. For various reasons other than the obvious, that was not a problem this year.

An RSVP for tonight did not guarantee a seat at the table. Although you may have received a Zoom link to the festival kick-off, we were warned that it did not constitute as a ticket and did not guarantee admittance, and that there were limited spots available. As it turns out, all TCM Classic Film Festival virtual events have limited capacity and those wishing to partake are admitted on a first-come, first-served basis. There's nothing new there, as in-person theatre events have a seating capacity. However, wouldn't you think that constraint would be nonexistent in the "webisphere"? I roamed the pages of the attendees and calculated about a hundred or so. That's not a lot when compared to the number of annual pass-holders, let alone the throngs of fans unable to attend in-person. I thought this was going to be a massive success, so what went wrong?

One has to wonder if the low attendance was due to extreme limitations of the platform, or was it just not that popular? Most fans of the classic film network are older, ranging from middle-age to senior citizens (myself included). Perhaps a lack of computer savvy effected their desire to register. Emailed step-by-step instructions could have helped alleviate that problem. Maybe it was the fact the event would be viewed on the small screen of a computer? Another set of instructions could guide a viewer as to how to route a computer to a TV. And if it was due to the limitations of the Zoom platform, then why was this not figured out a head of time? It just seems a shame that so many guests would not, or could not, attend one of the most cherished moments of the festival.

It was fun in its own way, and certainly unusual. Fans were invited to submit questions in advance for moderator, Scott McGee to pose to the various hosts. The questions were the rather typical softballs we hear from year to year, and the answers were also of the canned variety. There was no true uniqueness, which makes me wonder if the questions submitted by fans were all pretty much the same, and if so, why didn't TCM pad them with some more original queries? Maybe it's because I've attended every festival and I've heard all the answers that I'm longing for something that will really get me to the edge of my seat. Like, which star flat out refuses to come? Do you guys prep for the introductions to the films you host and how? Or, do you rely on researchers and question cards handed to you? What tips can you give attendees on the ins and outs of the fest? What's your least favorite thing about the fest, and don't cop out and say, "it's too short".

All in all, it was a rather lackluster event. I realize everyone has to put on a brave happy, smiling, face and promise they're going to bring us the same excitement as every fest before, but it just isn't going to happen. So let's stop saying so and embrace the shortcomings, faults, and mistakes. Let's acknowledge when we fall on our faces, or pull something off we didn't believe we could. It's a different world now, and people have already accepted the change happening all around them. We should have faith in their ability to accept the limitations of an online film festival and not try to convince them to hang in there. The 2021 TCM Classic Film Festival is its own animal. Let it be what it's going to be.


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