Classic Conversations: TCM’s Genevieve McGillicuddy Previews This Week’s 15th Classic Film Festival

I am counting the seconds until this Thursday when TCM’s Classic Film Festival begins in Hollywood.  The annual festival is sheer nirvana for classic movie fans. Over the years we’ve gotten to see so many amazing movies and people at the four-day festival. The list of special guests who have regaled us with firsthand accounts of making our favorite movies includes Angela Lansbury, Kirk Douglas, Jane Powell, Julie Andrews, Christopher Plummer, Maureen O’Hara, Debbie Reynolds, Liza Minnelli, Tony Curtis, Pam Grier, Faye Dunaway, Kim Novak, Luise Rainer, Dustin Hoffman, Sophia Loren, Mickey Rooney, Nancy Kwan, Warren Beatty, Tippi Hedren, Burt Reynolds, Leslie Caron, and so many others including directors Stanley Donen, Martin Scorsese, and William Friedkin. Fans come from all over the world to attend this spectacular event which this year begins with a special screening of Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction with stars John Travolta, Uma Thurman, and Samuel L. Jackson in attendance. As I furiously work on my schedule (many of the presentations run concurrently at different theaters so festivalgoers have to make some really tough choices), I talked to festival director Genevieve McGillicuddy to see what she is most excited about.

Danny Miller: Genevieve, it’s so good to talk to you! I’ve been to every festival since they began in 2010 and for a moment we were very worried that there wouldn’t be one this year. I don’t mind telling you that after all the corporate layoffs last year, I burst into tears when it was announced that you and Charlie Tabesh were being brought back to produce this year’s festival! 

Genevieve McGillucuddy: Oh my goodness, thanks for sharing that, that’s so sweet!

I’m sure you’re well aware of how much this festival means to so many people around the country and the world. I’m part of the very active Going to the TCM Classic Film Festival group on Facebook and we obsess about it all year long and have a big gathering at the festival. Was this intense level of interest surprising to you in the beginning?

You know, on one hand we, we truly built the festival with the goal of bringing together the community of TCM fans that was always at our core. But I remember that we started planning that first festival about 18 months out since we were creating everything from the ground up. And I will tell you that at that first festival, I think it was the day before we opened and people started showing up and they were wearing their passes, and the Roosevelt lobby started filling up with fans who had flown in — for me it was a sort of “pinch me” moment. I thought, “Oh my gosh, this is real, it’s really happening, everyone’s here!” We just didn’t know what to expect and we could not have been more pleased.

Chatting with Robert Osborne at the 2010 festival

I remember so well at the end of that festival when Robert Osborne got up on the stage at the Chinese and announced that there would be another festival the following year to a huge whoop of cheers from the audience. I get a lump in my throat just thinking about it because we had no idea if it would just be a one-off. 

It was pretty dramatic for us as well! Going into the festival, we just didn’t know, and we talked during the festival about whether Robert should announce it at the end. That decision was made and it was such a dramatic punctuation to all of the amazing activities of that first year!

Those early years brought so many amazing guests who made those movies and who are sadly no longer with us. I remember interviewing Robert before one of the first festivals and he was still holding out hope that he’d get his friend Olivia de Havilland to come. I assume your strategy for getting special guests has had to change over the years, given the passage of time.

Yeah, you know, sometimes we have pursued people for years, even a decade before they’ve been able to come, we’re always putting out feelers. Our talent bookers work so hard!

Are there certain people you’ve always been hoping to get to come to the festival?

The first one I can think of on my personal list is Julie Christie, I’ve always wanted her to come, she’s amazing but it just hasn’t worked out yet.

Next year! I know another person Robert Osborne always wanted to bring to the festival was Doris Day when she was still with us. Can you imagine the ovations she would have received from our crowd?

Oh, definitely. And it’s true that it’s getting more challenging to find people who were in some of the older films.

Which is why I’m so glad you’re bringing back people like the wonderful Cora Sue Collins, who worked with Garbo as a child, as you know, and is introducing The Sin of Nora Moran this year which she made in 1933! The actress Barbara Rush, who died a few weeks ago at the age of 97, was a good friend of my wife’s family, and a close friend of Robert Osborne’s, and it was so wonderful seeing her get the attention and enthusiasm she deserved at several festivals. She was very grateful for it.

Barbara Rush and Robert Osborne

She was lovely. I remember meeting her on the red carpet in 2010, and she made a point of speaking with me about what Robert had told her about the work that I had done. She could not have been more gracious and was just beautiful woman in every sense of the word. But you’re right, it’s been so special to bring in people and see the wonderful way our audiences welcome them. One that pops into my mind is Diana Serra Cary. 

Baby Peggy, I was there that day!

Yes, the last major silent film star at that point. Her interview was phenomenal, she was just incredible. In terms of our overall strategy, it hasn’t really changed that dramatically. We’ve always considered major anniversaries of films which often overlap with big restorations we’re able to premiere. And when there’s no longer anyone around who actually worked on the film, we sometimes bring well-known fans of the films. One example this year is Jeff Daniels who’s going to appear with Dog Day Afternoon because, when he first saw that film it had a direct impact on his decision to become an actor. 

I always enjoy the celebrities you get to introduce films, people like Keith Carradine, Kate Flannery, Bill Hader, and Dana Delany who I think are all coming back this year. 

Yes, it really echoes the strategy on the network of guest programmers, people who come in and talk about their favorite films, how a particular film may have impacted the work that they do in various ways, it’s a nice extension of that. 

I also enjoy when you bring the children or grandchildren of the stars or directors in to talk about their family members, like the daughters of Cary Grant, Fred MacMurray, Boris Karloff, and so on. I think that’s really meaningful for people and hope you do more of that! What are some of the films you’re most excited about this year?

It’s really an embarrassment of riches this year in terms of the guests and the variety of the films that we’re showing. I think that this is definitely a very special year since we’re marking both the 15th anniversary of the festival and the 30th for the network. One screening that I’m personally very excited about is the U.S. premiere of Made in England: The Films of Powell and Pressburger. I got a sneak peek at that documentary a few weeks ago. I’m a huge fan of their work and I definitely learned a lot that I didn’t know. The documentary is really Martin Scorsese taking the viewer through how those filmmakers impacted him, but also why they’re important. It’s a combination of a master class of Scorsese talking about these filmmakers, but also a lot of information about the two men that I really haven’t been exposed to before, so that’s a real treat.

I love the Powell and Pressburger films so much and have loved when the festival shows them. 

On Friday, we have an incredible lineup at the TCL Chinese Theater from Jodie Foster appearing with the The Silence of the Lambs, which dovetails nicely into this year’s Crime and Justice theme, to Steven Spielberg presenting the director’s cut of Close Encounters of the Third Kind to David Fincher presenting a world premiere restoration in IMAX of SE7EN. 

Fantastic. I always love the special presentations, like this year’s Vitaphone shorts that will be seen for the first time in 90 years. 

Yes, we’re collaborating with the Warner Brothers engineering department for that. They’ve build a special custom turntable to be able to play the original records with the 35mm prints of these vaudeville shorts, that’s going to be a very rare treat, something that you will probably only see at our festival.

I’m also excited about the nitrate prints which are increasingly rare to see.

Yes, speaking of past technologies and being able to see prints the way they were seen by audiences when they came out! The nitrate Technicolor print of Annie Get Your Gun will be eye-popping, I’m sure. We’re also showing a brand new restoration of Hitchcock’s North by Northwest which is always an audience favorite. That’s going to be presented by Nancy Meyers who we’re very excited to have with us.

Eva Marie Saint introducing North by Northwest at a past festival

One of Hitchcock’s best, I remember seeing it introduced by Eva Marie Saint at the festival.

We have our annual Robert Osborne Award being given to pioneering author and historian Jeanine Basinger at a screening of one of my favorite westerns, Westward the Women. And also Morgan Freeman and Tim Robbins with The Shawshank Redemption.

You’re not kidding with the embarrassment of riches!

I know! On Sunday, I’m very excited about the presentation of Double Indemnity at the TCL Chinese Theater, because that’s a film you don’t often get to see in the theater of that size. Last year I watched Casablanca in that auditorium, and it was such a phenomenal experience even though, like many people, I have seen that movie dozens of times.


It’s just so different watching it on a screen of that size in that theater with a big crowd, and I think Double Indemnity will be the same thing. Then we’ve got two-70 millimeter prints at the Egyptian, Lawrence of Arabia, starring one of my all-time favorite festival guests, Peter O’Toole, followed by a world premiere restoration of The Searchers in 70-millimiter, presented by director Alexander Payne. And Mel Brooks is coming to the festival for the seventh time with Spaceballs which will be a lot of fun, and that’s opposite  the 100th anniversary screening of Buster Keaton’s Sherlock Jr. with a live musical score played by the Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra.

Yeah, that’s one of my most tortured time slots! In terms of some of the “newer” films, I hear a lot of buzz among my TCM friends about Diane Lane appearing at the screening of A Little Romance, and the cast reunion for the 1994 Gillian Armstrong version of Little Women. I’m also excited about seeing the original That’s Entertainment since that was my gateway drug to classic movies when I was a kid.

Definitely. For me, I used to watch Channel 38 in Boston with my Dad. That had a big effect on me as did watching Three Stooges shorts on Sunday mornings. 

Did you have certain favorite stars as a kid? 

Oh, that’s always hard. I guess I’d say Fredric March, Cary Grant, obviously, and I was a huge fan of Barbara Stanwyck and Bette Davis. 

The best! I’m looking forward to seeing Bette in The Little Foxes this year. 

It’s funny, because we can watch most of these films at home, but it’s just not the same of watching them with big audiences in these magnificent theaters, there’s just nothing like it.

There really isn’t. Ugh, I thought I was all set on my schedule, Genevieve, but everything you’ve said has made me re-evaluate every choice. Now I’m in agony again, thanks a lot!

(Laughs.) That’s part of the fun. See you at the festival!

The 15th TCM Classic Film Festival runs from April 18 to April 21 in Hollywood. Click here for the schedule. You need a pass for the event but individual tickets are available for most films if there is any space available in the theater after the passholders are seated. 


–Danny Miller for Classic Movie Hub

You can read all of Danny’s Classic Conversation Articles Here

Danny Miller is a freelance writer, book editor, and co-author of  About Face: The Life and Times of Dottie Ponedel, Make-up Artist to the Stars

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