Let’s go to Capitolfest and watch classic movies for three days

Pop quiz for classic movie fans:

Do you love film festivals, but find that larger events can sometimes be too much?

Would you like to do away with rushing between theaters and standing in long lines where the wait can sometimes be longer than the movie lasts?

Finally, would you enjoy the chance to watch classic movies the way you would have when they were originally released?

If you answered yes, let me introduce you to Capitolfest.

This three-day classic movie film festival, held every August in the small Central New York city of Rome, N.Y., takes the best of what we love about film festivals (The movies! The friendly faces!) and adds an engaging and affordable user-friendly experience. Once you go, you’ll want to talk your classic movie friends into joining you – just like I’m trying to do here.

I’m not the only one touting how much fun Capitolfest is – here’s a link to a story by Once Upon a Screen about the festival, including thoughts from some of her classic movie friends.

This is the unassuming front of the historic Rome Capitol Theatre. The theater’s original marquee will be re-created as part of a restoration project.

Here are my thoughts on Capitolfest, including a few highlights for Capitolfest 17, coming up from Aug. 9 to 11. Don’t worry, you still have time to make plans.

Why Capitolfest is special

Organizers pride themselves on giving us a unique experience by showing as many films as possible in 35mm – as they were shown when they were new – in the historic and beautiful 1928 Rome Capitol Theatre.

Capitolfest focuses on movies from the 1910s through the 1930s that aren’t easily seen elsewhere. In fact, some have not been shown for decades. They come from private collectors and such well-known institutions as the Library of Congress, the UCLA Film & Television Archive,  the Museum of Modern Art in New York City and the nearby George Eastman Museum in Rochester.

This year’s schedule of nearly 30 shorts and features has some of my favorite stars (Edward Everett Horton, Constance Bennett, Barbara Stanwyck, Herbert Marshall), but they’re in movies I’ve never seen. What a treat it will be to watch these films for the first time.

You’ll appreciate the intimate and “user friendly” nature of the event, too. Since all movies are shown in one theater, there’s no running between venues or waiting in line. But that doesn’t mean you’re missing out: you can still watch movies from morning to late night as you would for a larger festival.

This laid-back setting allows you to come and go as you please; change your seat as often as you would like (you have to see at least one film in the balcony); grab concessions at old-fashioned prices (get there early for the doughnuts); visit the nearby dealer’s room (bring an extra bag for all your goodies) and hang out with your classic movie pals.

What’s happening at Capitolfest 17

Each year Capitolfest hosts a “tribute” star (chosen with help from previous attendees) whose movies will be part of the programming. In a surprise but welcome move, Capitolfest 17 will have two tribute stars: husband-and-wife Joel McCrea and Frances Dee.

The McCrea family has a special place in the hearts of many classic movie fans, especially those who visit their ranch in California which is open to visitors. Laura Grieve of Laura’s Miscellaneous Musings recently shared her experiences about visiting the McCrea Ranch for Classic Movie Hub. It’s a wonderful read and the photos capture a serene and welcoming place.

At Capitolfest, we’ll get the chance to hear from their son, Peter McCrea, who will introduce the film “Caught” and take part in a Q&A on Saturday, Aug. 10.

He’s not the only link to Hollywood’s Golden Age appearing at the festival.

Victoria Riskin, the daughter of Fay Wray and Robert Riskin, returns to the festival to share stories like those found in her tender new book about her parents.

Former child actress Cora Sue Collins, left, who enchants fans at the TCM Film Festival, will introduce her 1932 film “The Strange Case of Clara Deane,” also starring Frances Dee.

It is the first time in Capitolfest history that a star from a film showing at the festival will also be in attendance.

Another highlight of Capitolfest is the musical accompaniment to the silent films on the theater’s original 3-manual, 10-rank Möller theatre organ. Performing this year are Ben Model, Dr. Philip C. Carli and Avery Tunningley.

Here are a few movies I’m excited to see at the festival. I know you’ll find your own favorites after  checking out the schedule here.

“Captain Blood.” This is not the Errol Flynn version. Rather, it’s the 1924 silent movie which will be shown with musical accompaniment by Dr. Philip C. Carli. It’s a newly restored 35mm print from the Library of Congress. (7 p.m. Friday, Aug. 9.)

“Sally, Irene and Mary.” This 1925 MGM silent about the lives of three chorus girls stars Constance Bennett,  Joan Crawford and William Haines. Musical accompaniment is by Avery Tunningsley. (7:55 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 10.)

Gail Russell and Joel McCrea in “The Unseen,” the follow-up to “The Uninvited.”

“The Unseen.” I’m especially looking forward to this 1945 movie, a follow-up to one of my favorite films, the poetic ghost story “The Uninvited.” Gail Russell returns; McCrea and Herbert Marshall co-star. (9:15 p.m. Friday, Aug. 9.)

“Interns Can’t Take Money.” We’re all fans in some way of Dr. Kildare and this 1937 film starring McCrea is considered to be the first in the Dr. Kildare series. Barbara Stanwyck and Lloyd Nolan co-star. (3:30 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 10.)

Outside of the festival, the documentary “Be Natural: The Untold Story of Alice Guy-Blache,” the first female director, will be showing at the Cinema Capitol, located mere feet from the Capitol Theatre.

Sheila Bryans, left, traveled from England to attend Capitolfest 16. Ronald Colman was the tribute star of the fest and she is a big fan.

Organizers estimate about 90% of Capitolfest visitors come from out of town. But they don’t just drive in from such regional cities as New York City, Buffalo and Toronto, they come from as far away as Chicago, Florida, Texas and the West Coast, too. International visitors have attended as well, including Ronald Colman fan Sheila Bryans who flew in from England for the 2018 festival. As she discovered, Capitolfest was well worth the trip.

If you go

Capitolfest is held in the Rome Capitol Theatre, 220 West Dominick St., Rome, N.Y. For info on tickets, accommodations and the schedule, visit the Capitolfest page at romecapitol.com.


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