The day Turner Classic Movies came to Buffalo

Watching classic movies in my living room with Ben Mankiewicz is one of my favorite things to do. OK, so I’m watching him on my TV which is obsessively tuned to Turner Classic Movies.

Same thing – or so I thought until one magical night when I really was in a room, a theater to be precise, with Ben and other members of the TCM family who were in my hometown of Buffalo, N.Y., after I won the “TCM in Your Hometown” contest.

That was in October and I still haven’t come down from the excitement of that prize of a lifetime. TCM Backlot has recently launched its second “TCM in Your Hometown” contest and it’s a good time to reminisce about the day TCM came to Buffalo.

A look inside the historic North Park Theatre in Buffalo before the TCM Backlot in Your Hometown event. (Photo by Jeffrey Roberts)

When the original contest was announced, TCM Backlot asked for an essay of up to 1,000 words on why TCM should visit your hometown. They wanted to learn about the city and what made it special, unique and worth spotlighting. They wanted to hear about its film history and most important, if there was a historic movie theater that would be perfect for a classic screening. They would pick a winner from what they judged to be the best essay.

With so many great writers and film bloggers out there, I never thought I would win the contest.  I entered for two reasons. I wanted to interact with TCM Backlot almost as a way to say “Hey, I’m out here and I love classic movies!” Plus I thought an essay could double as a story about the great classic movie palaces in and around Buffalo for the newspaper where I work, The Buffalo News. We are so lucky to have six of these historic theaters, all built in the 1920s, still standing and operating even if they don’t all show movies full-time anymore.

When I learned weeks later that I was one of four finalists, I was equal parts thrilled and shocked. Then Backlot threw a curveball: They wanted us to make a short video about our hometown. With the guidance of some tech- savvy friends, my iPhone and help from others (including fellow Backlot member Tracy Snyder who did the voiceover for the video), my “filmette” was done and sent off to Backlot.

See the video here:

Finally the news came that I won (I’m still pinching myself) and TCM would be in Buffalo in, oh, about a month. (Can you say “whirlwind”?).

TCM planned the perfect event, picking “The Natural,” which was filmed here in 1983, as the feature film. Ben Mankiewicz hosted the event at the North Park Theatre, our 1920 movie house, and he brought a special guest: director Barry Levinson. Neither TCM nor Levinson knew the immense love Buffalonians hold for “The Natural” (Levinson told the capacity crowd he hadn’t been here since the filming), so it was fun to watch their reactions to the excitement.

Ben Mankiewicz, left, and director Barry Levinson on stage at the North Park Theatre in Buffalo before the TCM Backlot screening of “The Natural.” (Photo by Sharon Cantillon/Buffalo News)

Everyone in Buffalo has a story about “The Natural.” They can show you the moment in the film where you can see their elbow, knee or a shadow. They brought their memories and memorabilia. Continue reading “The day Turner Classic Movies came to Buffalo”