Capitolfest: the return of the friendliest classic film festival

In August, classic movie fans are fond of saying “all roads lead to Rome.”

That’s because Rome, N.Y., a small town of about 32,000 people about 45 miles from Syracuse, hosts the Capitolfest film festival at the historic Capitol Theatre.

It’s an intimate and friendly weekend-long event where classic movie fans from across the country – and even as far away as England – gather to watch movies from morning to night inside the single-screen Capitol Theatre. It’s a relaxed affair with time to talk between blocks of movies or to make a quick trip to the nearby Dealer’s Room.

The annual festival debuted in 2003 with a focus on movies from the 1910s, ’20s and ’30s, only missing 2020 because of the pandemic. It returns from Aug. 13 to 15.

A spotlight star is chosen each year with Gary Cooper, Fay Wray and Ronald Colman among recent honorees. For 2021, the films of sisters Constance and Joan Bennett are highlighted. The festival’s nearly 40 features and shorts also star the likes of Una Merkel, Clara Bow, Victor McLaglen and Laurel & Hardy.

Many selections are silent and as an extra treat will be accompanied by well-known silent movie accompanists David Peckham (on Aug. 13), Dr. Philip C. Carli (Aug. 14) and Ben Model (Aug. 15) who will perform on the Capitol Theatre’s 1928 original installation Möller organ.

Capitolfest is a film festival in the truest sense of the phrase as it strives to screen movies from 35mm film prints so they are seen as they were on their original release. (A few selections are digital, only if necessary.)

Canisters of 35mm films from a previous Capitolfest.

The 35mm films come from such archives as the Library of Congress, the Eastman Museum and the Museum of Modern Art. The arrival of the film canisters is always a cause for photos and celebration.

Capitolfest also prides itself on showing movies that aren’t easy to see on television or elsewhere. Yes, there will be a few familiar titles – for example, this year includes the delightful comedy “Topper” – but the festival focuses on rarely shown movies. I can vouch for the fact that you’ll be watching many things for the first time at Capitolfest.

A special bonus at the 2021 Capitolfest: attendees will be among the first to see the restoration work recently finished at the Capitol Theatre thanks to $2.5 million from Rome’s Downtown Revitalization Initiative. A grand reopening was held on July 17.

Here is a quick look at the movies starring the Bennett sisters. There are many other things to watch as well. The full schedule, plus other information and updates, is online at and on its Facebook page.

Joan Bennett is the title character in “The Trial of Vivienne Ware.”


11:10 a.m.  Aug. 13, “The Trial of Vivienne Ware” (1932).  Joan plays the title character in this murder-mystery starring Donald Cook and ZaSu Pitts.

4:10 p.m. Aug. 13, “She Wanted A Millionaire” (1932). A beauty contest winner leaves her sweetheart to marry a millionaire judge who turns out to be mentally unbalanced. With Spencer Tracy and Una Merkel.

9:55 a.m. Aug. 14, “The Pursuit of Happiness” (1934). A restored 35mm print. A soldier who deserts the British Army during the Revolutionary War falls in love when he defects to America. Also starring Francis Lederer and Charles Ruggles.

9:15 a.m. Aug. 15, “Artists and Models Abroad.” (1938). Jack Benny plays an entertainer stuck in Paris who mistakes Joan Bennett, the daughter of a millionaire, for a pauper. 

1:50 p.m. Aug. 15, “Week Ends Only” (1931). A “good” girl who hostesses at a club and at private parties to make ends meet, falls for a poor artist. With Ben Lyon.

The silent version of “Rich People” starring Constance Bennett will be shown at Capitolfest.


12:30 p.m. Aug. 13, “Madame Spy” (1942). Espionage thriller about a war correspondent who suspects his wife is a Nazi agent. With Don Porter.

7:35 p.m. Aug. 13, “Rich People” (1929). This film with Regis Toomey was made as a silent and talkie. The silent will be shown; the talkie is presumed lost.

9:20 p.m. Aug. 13, “Topper” (1937). Hal Roach comedy with Constance Bennett and Cary Grant as ghosts who help a henpecked banker played by Roland Young. Restored 35 mm print from the UCLA Film and Television Archive.

8:15 p.m. Aug. 14, “Wandering Fires” (1925). A woman’s past catches up to her after she confesses to her fiancée about an incident with another man before the war. Silent.


Capitolfest runs Aug. 13-15 in the Capitol Theatre, 220 W. Dominick St., Rome. Call (315) 337-6277.

Registration begins at 8:45 on Friday, Aug. 13 in the Capitol lobby and continues throughout the weekend. The box office opens one hour before the first scheduled movie each day. Here is a link for hotel information.

COVID-19 precautions

Since this is so important, I am quoting directly from the Capitol Theatre: “Persons who have not been fully vaccinated against Covid-19 must wear a mask whenever they are in any part of the Capitol Arts Complex; those who have been fully vaccinated are not required to wear masks. Social distancing seating areas comprise the entire right and left sections of the orchestra (downstairs) area and the entire balcony area (second section of the upstairs seating area). Parties sitting in these areas are asked to remain at least six feet apart from other parties.”