More than 300 gathered at SIFF Cinema in Seattle on March 3 to take in North by Northwest. But it was more than just an art house showing of one of Alfred Hitchcock's best.
With Turner Classic Movies host Robert Osborne and the film's co-star Eva Marie Saint in the house, it was the first stop on the network's expanded "Road to Hollywood" tour, leading up to its second film festival in Hollywood, scheduled from April 28 through May 1.
The TCM Classic Film Festival will showcase more than 70 screenings of vintage movies in Los Angeles, including special introductions, guest appearances and panel discussions.
While it will present an eclectic cadre of classics, this year's festival puts a focus on "Music and the Movies," with Vanity Fair serving as a partner and host of the opening night gala, featuring the 60th anniversary world premiere restoration of American in Paris, attended by star Leslie Caron.
There will be a celebration of songwriters George and Ira Gershwin, and such notable genre films as Shall We Dance (1937), Girl Crazy (1943), Royal Wedding (1951), Seven Brides For Seven Brothers (1954) and Carousel (1956), as well as a six-gun salute to the 100th birthday of the "king of the singing cowboys," Roy Rogers, and his movies, including restorations.
Last year, more than 2000 people from 44 states and half-dozen nations bought passes to the inaugural event, which network officials believes fortifies TCM's position as the home of vintage movies.
"People came to be part of the TCM experience," said Charlie Tabesh, who heads programming for the festival and the network. "It speaks to the power of the brand. This was not an L.A. thing, but a destination for passionate fans who love classic films."
Business is even brisker and broader this year, with festival-goers from 47 states having purchased packages by press time. TCM reports that about 85% of its four levels of entry -- providing access to the screenings, events other amenities -- are accounted for. That includes a sell-out of its "spotlight festival pass" for $1,199 and a few remaining tickets available for its new "matinee" pass for $299. Dennis Adamovich, senior vice president, general manager of the festival, who called the event "the Super Bowl of classic film festivals," said TCM is considering making select day pass opportunities available.
"This is not a huge revenue stream; we're looking to break even," he said. "It's about the fan experience, people who love these films coming to hear the speeches, attend the panels, see the stars, go to the book and poster signings."
The site of the first Oscars ceremony, the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel, will once again serve as the official hotel for the festival, as well as home to Club TCM, a central gathering point for attendees. Screenings and events will be held at Grauman's Chinese Theatre, Mann's Chinese 6 and the Egyptian Theatre.
Reprising notes from its "Moguls and Movie Stars" event last year, TCM will display its "Music and the Movies" exhibition in three markets San Diego, Orange County and L.A., before touching down at the festival. There, attendees will be able to see the Oscar for An American In Paris, Gene Kelly's boots from Singin' in the Rain and the bathing suit from Gigi, among other audio-related artifacts.
Speaking of the road, TCM's Road to Hollywood, with the network's Ben Makiewicz also hosting screenings, will stop in Cleveland (March 16); Tampa, Fla. (March 23); Chicago (March 24); New York (April 2); St. Louis (April 4); Long Island (Huntington, N.Y.) (April 13); Austin, Texas (April 16); San Francisco (April 20); and Los Angeles (April 21). Ernest Borgnine, Angie Dickinson, Tippi Hedren, Shirley Jones, Jane Powell, Angela Lansbury and Burt Reynolds are also scheduled to make appearances.
"One thing we learned from last year was the passion of classic film fans," said Adamovich. "We've decided to double the Road To Hollywood tour and give more people an opportunity to experience it."
Comcast in Seattle and Chicago and Time Warner Cable in Cleveland are partnering with the tour and TCM is looking to finalize affiliate participation, which encompasses co-branding on all communications about the screenings -- via flyers, websites and posters, in-theatre spots and VIP tickets to the films -- in the other markets. The nation's No. 2 cable operator is an official sponsor of the film festival in Tinseltown.
Folks not lucky enough to have passes can get a sense of festival on-air and online. "We do a lot of taping of Robert and Ben's introductions, the arrival of the stars, and the activities at the Roosevelt," said Tabesh. "It really takes over our network that weekend."
On their screens at home, TCM viewers will see the hosts setting up pictures featuring work from composer Bernard and Herrmann and the Gershwins.
While Tabesh is looking forward to seeing Guns of Navarone on the big screen next month, he's already contemplating the 2012 event.
"This is an ongoing process," he said. "We'll take a little time to relax after this one and then really quickly to start to plan for next year's festival."
More information about the TCM Classic Film Festival is available at http://www.tcm.com/festival/#/events/index