Friday, June 27, 2014

What is Capitolfest?

CAPITOLFEST, now in its twelfth year, is a film festival devoted to die-hard cinephiles and is held at the historic 1,788-seat movie palace, the Capitol Theatre, located in Rome, New York. The now historic Capitol was built as a movie house and opened December 10, 1928, with an all-movie program including the First National feature, Lilac Time. The Capitol Theatre remains the only building in Rome, New York (population 35,000) constructed for the specific purpose of exhibiting motion-pictures. Although the theatre received a modernistic face-lift in 1939, the auditorium is configured exactly as it was in 1928, and much of the original decor remains. Also still in place is the theatre's three-manual, 10-rank Moller theatre organ. Restoration work on the organ was started in 2002, and since then it has been used on a regular basis to accompany silent movies.

To walk through the front door is to step back into time and appreciate the value of a movie palace -- a time gone by when theatre goers were treated like royalty. Today, most theaters, often referred to as a "movieplex," takes your money, hands to a ticket and attempts to rake as much money as they can on the concessions. You are not thanked for coming to the theatre, and rarely are you invited to "enjoy the picture." But at Capitolfest, you receive a warm welcome and hearty handshake. 

Lobby card for Ladies' Man (1931, Paramount).
All of the films screened at the Capitol are shown in 35mm prints on the theatre's carbon-arc, variable-speed projectors -- a format that is quickly fading away into obsolescence as a result of the rising digital trend. At Cinefest in Syracuse this past year, the annual migration to the Holiday Inn in Liverpool served as the sole venue for vintage films. Saturday usually means a large number of attendees traveling to the local movie theatre to screen old films on 35mm. But when the movie theatre switched to digital the past year, convention attendees were forced to remain at the hotel and watch movies on 16mm. 

At Capitolfest, like many film festivals, prints come from archives such as the Library of Congress, UCLA Film and Television Archive, Universal Pictures, and Goldwyn Films, as well as from private collections. For cinephiles (that's how film buffs properly refer to themselves), watching rarely-seen movies is the highlight of the weekend. Extremely rare talking films and equally rare silents make up most of the bill. And yes, each of the silents were accompanied by some of the world's foremost exponents of authentic silent movie accompaniment. Three outstanding theatre organists are engaged every year to fit the bill. 

Lobby card for Shadow of the Law (1930, Paramount)
As you probably guessed, the goal of the Capitol Theatre is not just to show these vintage films, but to re-create the experience of seeing these movies when they were new. The historic atmosphere helps add to the emotions. This year's festival will include a tribute to William Powell, showcasing the actor in five features from the silent and talkie years. This includes Ladies' Man (1931, Paramount), Pointed Heels (1929, Paramount), Shadow of the Law (1930, Paramount), The Bright Shawl (1923, Paramount) and Forgotten Faces (1928, Paramount). Also added to the lineup is Roman Scandals, screened on Friday evening from an archival 35mm print from Samuel Goldwyn Films.

There are intermissions within each session of movies (featuring live organ music) and relatively lengthy breaks between sessions, allowing attendees to savor the films. Thus the convention slogan is "A vacation -- not a marathon." Approximately 90 percent of Capitolfest attendees comes from out of town but, whether you are a local or willing to travel a distance, the film festival is recommended. 

Free street parking all weekend. Numerous hotels are located within the area including:
Econo Lodge (315) 337-9400
Quality Inn (315) 336-4300
Red Carpet Inn (315) 339-3610
The Rome Motel (315) 336-4200
and The Wyndham Hotel  (315) 334-4244

Shop around for the best rates but ask for the Capitolfest rate as most of the hotels have a discount rate. Econo Lodge and Quality Inn, by the way, are within walking distance of the Capitol Theatre.

This year's dates are August 8 to 10, 2014.

The film festival's website is

Here, on the site, you'll find details about the various movies being screened. I attend a number of film festivals every year. I find it comforting to relax for two or three days, out of state and out of mind, watching old movies in a dark theatre with a crowd of people who have a deep appreciation for the movies and share the same passion for classic gems. I always read the program guides to learn more about the movies I watch (and the ones I cannot watch). Capitolfest, however, I have never been to personally and wish I could. But the weekend, which remains the same every year, always falls on the same weekend of a convention I am already scheduled to attend. One of these days I will be able to make the trek up there and report with photographs the fun everyone in Rome, NY keeps talking about. But don't let me stop you. Book your hotel room and make plans to travel there this August. (If you live in Ohio, Pulpfest is closer to you and held on the same weekend and you can find information here: At the very least, check out their site and read up on the movies they are screening this year to brush up on your knowledge of early (and rare) William Powell movies.

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