Capitolfest: The ‘just right’ film festival every classic movie fan should attend

I was pouting – again.

It was shortly after the Turner Classic Movie Film Festival in 2016 and I was still mopey about not attending – especially after the last-minute addition of Angela Lansbury.

Never having attended TCMFF (to that point), my classic movie pout was becoming an annual event around the same time each year. I had developed an inexplicable fear of travel as an adult and traveling to the West Coast was out of the question. So I lived vicariously through the TCM social media world where classic movie fans shared pictures and memories while I kept pouting.

Then “Capitolfest” started to appear in the TCM Twitterverse. People were traveling from across the country – including the West Coast and Florida – to this weekend-long classic film event held every August in a small Central New York city called Rome. Realizing how close it was – just a three-hour drive – it was time for me to stop pouting and get moving.

It would be a quick day trip. I left Buffalo at 7 a.m. on a Saturday, never   expecting that 12 hours later I would be trying to figure out a way to get someone to watch my dog so I could stay overnight.  I had fallen in love with Capitolfest and my new friends who I previously had only known by their Twitter handles. (Poor Jeff Lundenberger remained calm and smiled when, like a stalker, I approached him on the stairs and asked “Are you Jeff Lundenberger? I follow you on Twitter.” Beth Ann Gallagher (@missbethg) was equally kind when I yelled “Are you Nitrate Diva?” She took a moment to talk and then patiently pointed out the real @nitratediva, plus @classicmoviehub, @citizenscreen and others. I may have been the “new kid” at Capitolfest and a bit too eager, but I was warmly welcomed.)

Why do I love Capitolfest and think every classic movie fans needs to attend? Because it’s the “just right” festival. It’s comfortable, relaxing and affordable (a weekend pass is about $60). Set in one movie theater with intermissions, there’s time to stretch, run to the bathroom, grab a refreshment and, best of all, talk to other classic movie fans.

The movies are amazing – the festival focuses on showing films from the 1920s and ‘30s and wants to “re-create the experience of seeing movies as when they were new.” To that purpose, you are transported back in time sitting in the 1928 Capitol Theatre and watching movies on 35mm film – not digital or DVDs unless absolutely necessary. Prints come from “such archives as the Library of Congress, the UCLA Film & Television Archive, Universal Pictures, the George Eastman House, Warner Bros. Pictures, and Sony Pictures, as well as from private collections.”

Silent movies are accompanied on the organ by familiar names including  Dr. Philip C. Carli, Bernie Anderson and Avery Tunningley. The program features a generous selection of films starring that year’s tribute star, voted on by the previous year’s attendees. My choice was the same the two years I attended, so I’m thrilled that my guy Ronald Colman was chosen for 2018.

If you don’t have a particular fondness for the tribute star, don’t worry – there are many other movies shown. Plus, you may gain a new appreciation of the tribute star as I did in 2017 for Fay Wray who I had only seen in “King Kong” and “Mystery of the Wax Museum” despite her more than 100 films and shorts. Capitolfest introduced me to at least five of Wray’s films and I enjoyed them all, including “The Sea God” (1930) and “Countess of Monte Cristo” (1934).

You never know who will show up at Capitolfest. Wray’s daughter Victoria Riskin was a surprise guest last year and everyone loved her charming stories about the love between her famous parents (her dad was Oscar-winning screenwriter Robert Riskin ).

A key point that sets Capitolfest apart: It prides itself on focusing on “obscure films that received critical praise in their time, but are now near-impossible to see.”

A gentle reminder of this came recently when I bemoaned the exclusion of Ronald Colman’s “Random Harvest.” The film is No. 2 on my bucket list to see on the big screen, but organizers were right to remind me that I could see it anytime (including in my own house).

“The Night of Love”

Thanks to Capitolfest 16, I will watch Ronald Colman and Lillian Gish on the big screen for the first time in “Romola” (1924), as well as Colman and Vilma Banky in “The Night of Love” (1927) and Colman and Lili Damita in “The Rescue” (1929). I’ve only seen some of the gorgeous photos from those movies (like the one at left) – I can’t imagine how beautiful the film will look on the big screen.

No ‘survival guide’ necessary, but doughnuts are

Questions always abound before festivals and big events. How early do I have to get there? Will I have time to eat? What about parking?

Don’t worry, you don’t need a survival guide for Capitolfest. You won’t be  running from theater to theater, waiting in long lines or getting shut out of that movie you really wanted to see. You’re in one theater with hotels, a grocery store and a few eateries nearby; others are a quick drive away.

I do have one tip to offer, however: eat doughnuts.  Boxes of the delicious treats from Dippin’ Donuts will be at the theater’s concession stand again and I’m told there may even be an extra dozen or so this year. Concessions are straightforward movie fare: popcorn, candy, pop and coffee at very affordable prices.

So fill up and then enjoy the movies which are set up in sessions of a double feature and short subjects. Tickets are sold by sessions, day or for the festival. If you have a ticket, you will get in.

Here are a few other facts about Capitolfest.

Come and go as you like. In fact, feel free to switch your seat. Sit in different spots on the first floor or check out the balcony where you can get a close-up view – and better photos – of the theater’s glorious octagonal dome.

Want a break? The dealers room is about a minute walk outside the theater. Bring a bag for your goodies – you’ll need it.

A few items I’ve purchased from the dealers room at Capitolfest seemed to have been a harbinger of the 2018 tribute star Ronald Colman.

Books, movies (on DVD and actual film), pictures, photos – it’s all there. My haul includes books on Angela Lansbury and Vincent Price, plus photos, a few Ronald Colman items and  movies including the creepy Italian horror film “Black Sunday” and a copy of the restoration of the mesmerizing silent fantasy “Little Orphant Annie,” shown at the 2017 fest.

Lodgings: I stayed a night my second year and wanted to be within walking distance. I laughed at myself from the parking lot of the affordable Quality Inn (200 South James St.) where I was looking at the Capitol Theatre. There are other spots to stay in Rome (although the popular B&B’s sell out well in advance) and in nearby Utica.

Oh, about the people I had trouble saying goodbye to at my first Capitolfest: I am proud to now call them my friends – and by their real names, not their twitter handles. We had a great time at Capitolfest again last year – and at the two TCM film festivals I’ve attended since then. Yes, Capitolfest and classic movies are slowly helping me get over my travel issues. My smiles are proof.


Capitolfest 16 is from Aug.  10-12, 2018 in the Rome Capitol Theatre. 220 W. Dominick St., Rome, N.Y. To buy tickets, learn more about the Rome Capitol Theatre and see the schedule, visit


2 thoughts on “Capitolfest: The ‘just right’ film festival every classic movie fan should attend”

    1. Thank you Beth! That is the highest compliment I could have received. By the way, I may have told you this, but you are the person who first brought Capitolfest to my attention on Twitter and then were kind enough to answer my question asking about it. Without you, I would not have gone! Looking forward to seeing you.


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