TCM Classic Film Festival: Exec Q & A

TCM Classic Film Festival

Prior to the 2021 TCM Classic Film Festival, TCM executives and programmers sat down with the media to discuss the upcoming festival.

TCM General Manager Pola Changnon, Festival Director Genevieve McGillicuddy, and SVP of Programming Charlie Tabesh were among those who sat down with media during Monday’s press junket. They made a quick pivot to TCM last year but this year, the festival has the added benefit of utilizing HBO Max for programming.

One thing I’ll note is that because of being in Chicago, flying out annually to the festival isn’t really an option on this end. While some in-person events are exclusive to an in-person festival, I hope they continue making the festival accessible to all by airing some of the same films on the linear network or HBO Max. It’s an exciting way of “attending” a film festival without having the budget to physically attend the festival.

Last year, you had the whole pivot to TCM because of the TCM Classic Film Festival not being able to be held in person. How exciting was it to add on the HBO Max component this year?

Pola Changnon: I’ll start with that and then certainly the others can jump in with the sort of the unique opportunity that this presented for all of us. Last year, that was a really tight pivot and we knew we could pull something together for the network. At that time, HBO Max hadn’t even launched yet so we didn’t even have the temptation to try to develop something for that environment. But this year, going in, we really knew that since we weren’t gonna be able to do it in real life, we wanted to challenge ourselves to do something that sort of gave more folks access to the festival experience. And certainly, we as a company are really excited about HBO Max and its evolution in a short amount of time.

We thought it would be a really smart thing for us to kind of partner with another part of our company that already has this wealth of library product available to us to program. But also, it was really important to us because we know it’s a different audience than the audience that lives with us on the network in cable. We don’t want to only kind of speak to the people who we have been programming to for 27-plus years. We want to find the new audiences as well and that’s absolutely HBO Max. It became something that was born out of necessity, just given the ongoing health and safety issues. But now, we’re really pleased that it sort of drove us to partner and to really activate the TCM hub for this festival. We know it’s going to be a lot of learning for both sides of that.

Genevieve McGillicuddy: I think one thing that I would chime in here on is that we’re always looking at other film festivals, what types of innovations they’re doing. It was interesting after we did our special Home Edition, which was you could argue it might have been one of the first if not the first festival to kind of pivot in that way. We were fortunate we had a network, we could do that quickly. But many film festivals, of course, in the last year have essentially created things on third party platforms. They’ve had to figure out how are we going to put these films in front of our audience. This is kind of a new thing, having a film festival on a streaming service in this way. We felt incredibly fortunate that we could partner within the company and be on a platform like HBO Max because that’s not something that’s accessible to many people doing an event like this. Therefore, that puts us in front of so many more people that the festival might not have been in front of before, which is really exciting.

Charlie Tabesh: I’ll just add that one of the advantages is that the rights are different for linear and for streaming. We had access to a different set of movies for HBO Max than we did for linear and that opened up possibilities. It made it more challenging in a lot of ways but more fun, too. That was another big plus just from a programming standpoint.

Cinerama Dome, movie theater, movie theaters
Pacific Theatres’ Cinerama Dome. Photo by Solzy at the Movies.

G-d willing, the festival will be back in person next year. What does it mean right now with a venue like the ArcLight Cinerama Dome currently out of commission?

Genevieve McGillicuddy: Creating the footprint of the film festival, the ecosystem of Hollywood has changed every which way since we’ve done this event, starting with doing the event in 2010. What’s been fantastic is that over the years, we’ve really developed some great relationships with a wide variety of venues, whether it’s the El Capitan, the Hollywood Legion post that we just brought online a couple of years ago, the Cinerama Dome, the Academy theater on Vine. There are actually a lot of amazing options within Hollywood that we’ve been able to utilize over the years to add on to the core footprint that we have with the Chinese Theater and with the Roosevelt Hotel.

It’s definitely been tough to watch what’s been going on overall with movie theaters, and especially looking at the ArcLight and what an amazing venue the Cinerama Dome is. I think we’re very optimistic, just knowing the history of that particular venue and how popular that location of the ArcLight is that it will come back in another incarnation. We hope to be back there at some point in the near future.

The 2021 TCM Classic Film Festival airs May 6-9 on TCM and HBO Max.

Danielle Solzman

Danielle Solzman is native of Louisville, KY, and holds a BA in Public Relations from Northern Kentucky University and a MA in Media Communications from Webster University. She roots for her beloved Kentucky Wildcats, St. Louis Cardinals, Indianapolis Colts, and Boston Celtics. Living less than a mile away from Wrigley Field in Chicago, she is an active reader (sports/entertainment/history/biographies/select fiction) and involved with the Chicago improv scene. She also sees many movies and reviews them. She has previously written for Redbird Rants, Wildcat Blue Nation, and Hidden Remote/Flicksided. From April 2016 through May 2017, her film reviews can be found on Creators.