If not for the COVID-19 pandemic affecting the world, the TCM Classic Film Festival would have been held this week. Thousands of attendees coming to celebrate their celluloid heroes would have, according to Ray Davies, "seen all the stars as [they] walked down Hollywood Boulevard" among the tourists and several costumed folks trying to hustle a buck for a photo op. In response to the festival cancellation, TCM has focused their programming and online presence to create a Home edition, which is something I am surprised hasn't already occurred in conjunction with the festival. The technology is available and the channel has plenty of fans around the world unable to attend for one reason of another who would certainly like to take part in some manner.
In lieu of a media event, two roundtable interview sessions were held featuring Ben Mankiewicz (TCM host), Pola Changnon (TCM General Manager), and Charlie Tabesh (TCM Senior VP of Programming). Leading off the second session, Casey K (@NoirGirl) asked a variation of what would have been my question regarding "the possibility of having a virtual festival component in years to come". The answer was unfortunately non-committal. We were told depending on the fan response to the Home edition and how well it complements the brand will determine if they incorporate it into future festivals. When pressed for what would be considered a success, there wasn't a specific answer. It came off like there's a goal, but what it is can't be known ahead of time, so for those who enjoy the Home edition and would like to see it happen again, you better make your reactions known to the powers that be and make them know often.
Most of the media on the phone call were curious about the present and future of the festival. For some reason, the next gentleman to ask a question was focused on its past and asked Ben about the most impactful interview of his career and something about an interview getting out of hand. Ben humored him with an answer that combined both regarding an interview he conducted with Mickey Rooney at the festival where he got off topic and began proselytizing before a wisecrack from Ben refocused him. Thankfully, the gentleman was cut off before inconsiderately trying to follow up.
In regard to more newsworthy fare, there was a "maybe" given regarding the channel possibly hosting more themed weekends. The festival has hosted world premiere restorations of films that have later aired on the channel and the cancellation won't affect that. Regarding the 2020 TCM Cruise, which is set for October 4-10, they are cautiously optimistic, but can't make any commitments. However, they still doing the work necessary if it goes forward.
I asked if there was going to be any 2020 TCM Film Festival or Special Home Edition paraphernalia for sale? I got a "maybe," but they had pulled production on 2020 swag and were already been leaning toward less date-specific stuff, which I noticed last year in the gift shop. So it sounded like there may be new TCM products coming but not anything festival related. [Update: Just got word that merchandise will not be available for sale but fans can win merchandise in Twitter giveaways throughout the weekend.]
For some reason, a question was asked of Ben about how the pandemic would affect award season, which was baffling since that has zero to do with the TCM Classic Film Festival. Being much more diplomatic than I would have been, Ben pointed out that the only award show that matters is the Oscars and even that doesn't matter. If it needs to be canceled, so be it.
In response to their online presence, there would be videos of the hosts shared on TCM's YouTube channel and social media platforms. It sounded still up in the air on if Ben would take part in some form of live tweeting, but he was hoping to do so for The Hustler.
Even with the call going 10 minutes over the allotted time, there will still plenty of questioners on the call who didn't take part. That speaks to the passion the TCM brand generates. Hopefully, that passion will be on display during the TCM Classic Film Festival 2020 Special Home Edition this weekend and will lead to a permanent online component so many more film fans can participate in years to come.