The lush tropical patio near poolside at the historic Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel was jumping with activity. Names were shouted, followed by hugs and kisses. Soon, there wasn't much space to move, but no one cared.
The celebration stopped long enough for a presentation — then there were more hugs and promises to see each other tomorrow.
If that sounds like a reunion, it was. This was a gathering of the Going to the TCM Film Festival Facebook group at the Turner Classic Movies Film Festival in Los Angeles. The scene was soon repeated online by a group that tweets as #TCMParty, which held its own reunion in the same spot, with some of the same people and with the same results: Lots of smiles and hugs and so-happy-to-see-you-agains.
Then it was off to see movies.
"I've been to the TCMFF so many times it's now like a big class reunion," said Jeff Lundenberger of Asbury Park, N.J. who has attended the festival annually from 2011 to 2017. "I go knowing I will run into someone I know the minute I step into the lobby of the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel. That sense of familiarity and comfort permeates the entire festival."
Lundenberger, who was a TCM social producer in 2015 and 2016, is part of the #TCMParty group that has built a nationwide community by tweeting regularly about the network and classic movies. That sense of community, camaraderie and a common passion — classic movies — help the TCM Film Festival draw thousands from around the world for what could be called a filmcation.
Instead of a traditional vacation to a beach, amusement park or international hot spot, film buffs can spend their leisure time gathering with like-minded folks at one of the hundreds of film festivals nationwide. And there seems to be a festival for every type of movie fan. The Nitrate Picture Show, held at the George Eastman Museum in Rochester, screens movies made on delicate nitrate film stock. Foodies can attend the multisensory Food Film Festival, Oct. 19-22 in New York City, where they can actually eat the food shown in the movie. Fans of H.P. Lovecraft shouldn't miss the film festival held in his name in Portland, Ore. (Oct. 6-8). And there's many more.
For the film-loving Soule family of South Lake Tahoe, Calif., the TCM Film Festival has grown into a family vacation. Kevin Soule was a film student when his parents, Richard and Suzanne, talked him into the attending the festival. "It was a great exercise for a film student. I came here and was hooked," said Kevin, 26, who was attending his eighth festival. Now, the festival is an annual Soule family vacation with Kevin, his parents and sister, Tracy, 24.
"It's a great thing for us to share," said Kevin as he walked with his family into the TCL Chinese Theatre IMAX. "We all know different things about the movies and we talk about them afterward."
By the end of the festival, the Soules had logged in 16 movies and averaged four hours of sleep per night.
While festivalgoers spent a lot of time in the dark watching the more than 80 programmed films at the film festival, there was much more to do. Consider the festival a comic-con for classic movie fans with presentations, panels, book signings, a red carpet movie ("In the Heat of the Night" with Sidney Poitier in attendance) and special events including the grand Hollywood tradition of a hand-and-foot print ceremony (in this case for Carl and Rob Reiner).
It's held in the heart of the bustling Hollywood Boulevard. The Hollywood Roosevelt is home base, where a TCM Lounge had a bar, movie memorabilia — including a display of vintage Debbie Reynolds costumes — and plenty of seating for special presentations such as a talk with director Peter Bogdanovich and a book signing with Dick Cavett.
Across the street, screenings were either at the luxurious TCL Chinese Theatre or upstairs at the Chinese 6 Multiplex. More movies were shown at the nearby Egyptian Theatre.
Film festivals also are a chance to see new places. Many arrived a week or so early to take advantage of tourist activities such as visiting former homes of the stars including Fred Astaire and Harold Lloyd, going to the historic Joel McCrea ranch or paying their respects to the many celebrities buried at Forest Lawn cemetery in Hollywood Hills.
The internationally known Larry Edmunds Book Shop was a must-stop for many film fans, especially during a book signing with actress Tippi Hendren. Some even snagged tickets for "Jimmy Kimmell Live," filmed within walking distance. Bus tours are offered on most corners along Hollywood Boulevard. Just pay and hop on.
But ask a veteran festivalgoer why they return and it's all about the films and the people.
"We keep coming back here because it's a big family reunion and that's important to me," said Kelly J. Kitchens Wickersham, a film publicist and classic movie fan from Texas who was attending her eighth TCM festival. "It's such a treasure that we are able to be here each year."
After her first TCM Film Festival, she created the Going to the TCM Film Festival Facebook group, which has grown to more than 1,200 people. "I love the diversity of the group — we have people from Sweden, Australia and Scandinavia," she said.
One of those long-distance travelers is Karin Mustvedt-Plüss, of Norway, whose first visit to the United States was to attend the festival. "This was going to be my great American adventure," she said about her first trip. "It was so much fun I had to do it again."
Perhaps more surprising than the 6,000 miles she travels to attend is the fact that she can't watch TCM in her homeland. "You're spoiled," she laughed about Americans who have TCM at the click of a remote. "Every movie I want to watch, I have to find the DVD, get the download or have someone record it for me."
Making this year's festival (her fifth) even more special was that Mustvedt-Plüss celebrated her 31st birthday "on the red carpet" with friends. "I have friends from other corners of the world here," she said, mentioning Sweden and Cuba. "But when you get here, you are all speaking the same language."
That language is for a love of classic movies that helps pleasantly whittle down the wait in line, which can sometimes stretch for two or more hours for a buzzworthy event such as the nitrate screening of "Black Narcissus." It's a time to catch up with old festival friends, make new ones or forge an even deeper relationship. Kitchens Wickersham was working the Deep Ellum Film Festival in Dallas when she met volunteer Mark Wickersham. They married in 2006 and have been attending festivals together ever since.
"We consider ourselves festival people and we want to go to as many as we can," she said, naming Rochester's Nitrate Film Festival as one they are hoping to attend. "It's an expensive hobby to go to film festivals around the country, but we all have innate passion and deep love of movies."
IF YOU GO
There are a few film festivals a short drive from Buffalo. Some annual festivals that will return in 2018 include Hot Docs, a Toronto event that screens hundreds of documentaries, and the Nitrate Picture Show, which is held in May at the Dryden Theatre at the George Eastman Museum.
Here are three festivals coming soon that are worth the quick trip from Buffalo.
Aug. 11-13 at Rome Capitol Theater, 220 W. Dominick St., Rome. Info: romecapitol.com/capitolfest
This classic movie festival , held in a single-screen 1928 movie palace, focuses on films by a different "tribute star" each year. Fay Wray is the star for its 15th edition in August. Capitolfest is an intimate festival that's easy to maneuver. A dealer's room, held in an adjacent building, is surprisingly large and houses a treasure trove of movie memorabilia. A ticket for the entire festival is $60; individual days are available. Call (315) 337-6453.
Sept. 7-17, various theaters, Toronto; tiff.net.
If a star-studded extravaganza with world premieres and red carpets is more your style, then try TIFF. Ticket packages are on sale now ($105-$425); individual tickets go on sale Sept. 4 ($10-$59 each). The schedule is released Aug. 22.
Nov. 2-6, Rochester; highfallsfilmfestival.com
This event celebrates women in film through screenings, panels, Q&A sessions. Movies are screened at the Little Theatre, 240 East Ave. Schedule and ticket info is to be announced.