Interview: Genevieve McGillicuddy, Executive Director of the TCM Classic Film Festival

I am thrilled Genevieve McGillicuddy agreed to answer a few questions for me prior to the start of the 2022 TCM Classic Film Festival on April 21 in Hollywood. Not only is Genevieve the Executive Director of the Festival, she is also VP, Brand Activations/Partnerships for Turner Broadcasting Inc. Given that this must be an extremely hectic time for her, I am beyond appreciative for her time.

I am curious about many things about this year’s Festival, which will be live in Hollywood after a two-year COVID-related hiatus. Among these, is my curiosity about how the strict health regulations will be enforced. If these remain as noted on the Festival page, they will certainly affect lines and venue capacities. Genevieve did not offer insight on those topics probably because, as we all know, COVID-related regulations can change on a dime. If you are planning to attend this year’s Festival, I strongly suggest you read the Festival 101 page to see what is expected of each attendee.

I hope you enjoy the following few questions posed to Genevieve McGillicuddy and that we run into each other in Hollywood and in its historic venues.

GONE WITH THE WIND playing at the TCL Chinese Theatre on closing night of TCMFF 2019. Photo courtesy of TCM

Aurora: I know that this is not a job for you as you’ve stated previously. Like so many that work at TCM, you have a passion for classic film. How did that journey begin for you?

Genevieve: Like a lot of classic movie fans, I was introduced to classic movies by my parents. My dad enjoyed watching a show called The Movie Loft on Channel 38 in Boston, which featured a host presenting a classic film, like CASABLANCA, PATTON or THE THIN MAN. It was TCM several decades before TCM! I really fell in love with the films made in the 1930s—the fashion and the Art Deco design really appealed to me. My love of movies became more important to me in college, and I attended my first film festival in London in 1992 to see a documentary about Bernard Hermann. I attended graduate school to study film and wound up ‘specializing’ in Japanese cinema. I’ll watch pretty much anything if it looks interesting, but classic movies are at the root of it all for me.

Aurora: Japanese cinema, huh? Wish I’d known that before. What movies would make up your ideal evening of classic programming on TCM?

Genevieve: Okay, this is a fun question! I’m going to propose a mix of films that are not so well-known and a few favorites.

THE THIRD MAN (1949)

DARLING (1965)

DRUNKEN ANGEL (1948)

NETWORK (1976)

Aurora: I have to make it a point to see DARLING, but I know the others are stellar.

I thought last year’s virtual festival was great. Now that you have that under your belt, will there be a virtual component to this year’s event? Special programming on HBO Max? Or are there plans to do that in the future for fans who cannot make it to Hollywood?

Genevieve: We are not planning on a virtual edition on HBOMax for this year, but it is definitely an idea that we want to explore for the future. We were very pleased with the reception that the 2021 virtual TCM CFF received, and this year our social team is going to be on-site with coverage of the Festival—they’ll be posting the Opening Night Q&A with Steven Spielberg, panels, and more on our YouTube channel. It’s a big lift to produce both a real-life event and a virtual one, but there is no denying the opportunity to find new ways to bring the Festival to life for many people who might not be able to attend otherwise.

Aurora: I can only imagine how difficult it is to coordinate all the venues and dates. How does the festival process work with guests? Do you book guests and then they choose what film they would like to introduce? Or do you choose a movie and work from there? I realize that may fall more under Mr. Tabesh’s area.

Genevieve: Our programming team and talent team work very closely to align on desired films and guests as the schedule starts to come together. Much of the time, the genesis of this is the programming, and the discussions then start around how we would incorporate special guests. But that’s not always the case—when we decide on tributees, for example, it definitely starts with our ideas around who would be recognized with a tribute.

Aurora: How difficult was it and how did you compensate for the loss of the Egyptian this year?

Genevieve: We were very lucky to introduce the Hollywood Legion Theater to our attendees in 2019, and we are thrilled to be back, and make this venue a core part of the Festival, especially with the absence of the Egyptian Theatre this year. We knew well in advance that the venue would be offline for renovations—it’s exciting to think about using it again down the road after the work is completed. I’m sure it will be an even better venue for movie lovers!

Aurora: Why are so few films screened at El Capitan?

Genevieve: The El Capitan is primarily focused on first-run Disney theatrical films—that often means that their bookings overlap with the times we might use the theatre. We have developed a great relationship over the years, though, and hope to build the partnership in the future. 

Just announced: Steven Spielberg and George Stevens, Jr. will introduce the new 4K restoration of GIANT alongside Margaret Bodde, Executive Director of the Film Foundation at the Festival

Aurora: For the myriad of pre-code fans of which I am one, I must ask, why are pre-codes always scheduled in the smallest theater?

Genevieve: Our programming team works hard to create a range of options for every time period, as well as balancing that schedule with the formats available in each house/venue—often, we have wound up in a situation where many pre-Codes wind up on 35mm film format, and House 4, being a dedicated film venue, is often our best option for the slot. Not every pre-Code lands there—BABY FACE is being shown this year at the Hollywood Legion Theater.

Aurora: And BABY FACE will be a hot ticket this year. I’m glad it’s in the bigger venue.

Since you have been at the helm for every single Festival since 2010, what has continually surprised you year after year?

Genevieve: It’s not a surprise necessarily, but I’m sometimes asked if it gets easier to produce the event after doing it for many years—the reality is that each year is distinct in so many ways, that it’s rare that we feel that we’ve entirely mastered the art of doing this. It definitely keeps us on our toes. We typically find ourselves the morning after Closing Night saying, “How are we going to top this?” And somehow we find a way to carve out new angles, find more unique programming and host amazing guests we could never have imagined.

Aurora: I really enjoyed the interviews that took place in the lobby of the Roosevelt in the earlier festivals. I am wondering why those are no longer done?

Genevieve: We have gone back and forth over the years around the opportunities we have to shoot at the Festival and how we create an ideal experience for an audience. While we know many fans have enjoyed attending this over the years, we are investing more resources and energy in capturing the appearances in the venues, rather than build in additional interviews in the lobby. But we may return to the lobby in the future!

Aurora: Again, this makes me happy. The fact the lobby interviews are not completely off the table.

Do you foresee the Cruise and the Festival continuing for the foreseeable future?

Genevieve: We are all very proud of the experiences that we have created for our passionate fan base—we are always exploring new and exciting events for fans and continuing to improve on what we’ve built. And in the meantime, we’re thrilled about the TCM Classic Cruise returning this November!

Aurora: Finally, are there any guests that have not been able to attend the Festival that you have wanted?

Genevieve: Speaking for myself, Julie Christie has a standing invitation.

You heard it here first, folks.

____________

Given the fact that the Festival is looming, I didn’t ask about possible changes at TCM following the recent merger of Discovery and Warner Media. Fans of the classic movie network never want it to change but I cannot help but worry a bit. Perhaps we will get some insight on that during the press meeting prior to the start of the Festival. Still, I feel this year’s event is about joyous reunions, about returning to normalcy after a difficult two years. I will leave the more serious matters for a later date and will keep my eyes and ears pierced for Festival updates, which you can check for at TCM.com/Festival.

2 thoughts

  1. We would like to offer you a free press badge to the Columbus Moving Picture Show in exchange for a review on your blog. Our vintage film convention runs May 26-29 at the Renaissance Downtown Hotel in Columbus, Ohio. Throughout the weekend, we run 16mm films in our screening room, host a ballroom full of dealers, a seminar room, and book signings. Our focus is on rare movies from the 1960s and earlier. Please let me know if you are interested in attending this event.

    1. Hello. My sincere apologies for not responding sooner. Your film festival sounds fabulous. I would love to attend but have a family member’s wedding that weekend. I will spread the word about your festival, however. Keep me in mind for next year!

      Best,

      Aurora

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