Classic movie mania — what a thrill it is!

Attending a film festival usually results in the same occurrences — too many films to see in one day, meeting directors who offer insight into their films, and great parties. One usually returns home exhausted and unable to recall much about the festival. That's not the case with Robert Osborne's Classic Film Festival.

I just returned from the festival as an invited panelist for the fourth year. I enjoy this festival so much that I bravely boarded a plane for Athens, Ga., only five weeks after total knee placement. This is the sixth year for the festival, and nearly every seat in the beautiful 900-seat Classic Center was filled for the four films each day.

I think what makes this festival so successful is its specific genre. Classic movie fans love these films, which include everything from silents to melodramas and comedies.

"The festival is increasing in size each year," said Pamela Kohn, director. "We had more students attending, and it's great to have a new generation seeing these classic films on the big screen, and some for the first time."

Osborne, the host of Turner Classic Movies, has a formula for film selection that has proved successful. This year's lineup included "To Catch a Thief," "Double Indemnity," "Stand by Me," "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid," "The Shining," "Steamboat Bill Jr.," "All About Eve," "The Godfather II" and "The Wizard of Oz."

Although many classics are thankfully being restored and released by the studios, there's nothing like seeing the films on a giant movie screen. I've seen "To Catch a Thief," "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid" and "The Godfather" trilogy many times, yet watching them on the big screen was not only totally enjoyable, but there were many aspects of each I picked up on for the first time.

"I try to select seven or eight films from different decades to show that many great movies were made in different decades," Osborne explained. "I also want variety, so I look for a drama, thriller and an appropriate Sunday musical for families, like this year's 'The Wizard of Oz.' Then I focus on films with established universal appeal, like 'Casablanca' — mainly so people can see how different it affects them when watching the movie on the big screen. Lastly, I chose a few I feel are great movies that maybe many people haven't seen or heard of but will trust us because everything we've shown has been a great film."

I've been fortunate and often excited to spend time interviewing many of today's stars, such as George Clooney, Hugh Jackman and Angelina Jolie. Yet it's especially rewarding to meet some of Hollywood's pioneers — actors and filmmakers — who steered show business in making films far more enjoyable than most appearing on the big screen today.

Meeting Eddie Muller, who came to talk about "All About Eve" and "Double Indemnity," was very insightful. He's the founder and president of Film Noir Foundation and is determined to help preserve films.

Osborne, of course, is just like he is on TCM. He always has great insight into the great behind-the-scenes facts. While talking about "All About Eve," he informed the audience that onscreen stars Bette Davis and Celeste Holm loathed each other in real life, yet gave amazing performances regardless.

I enjoyed talking with producers Fred Ross and Gary Frederickson about their "Godfather" films; hearing Corey Feldman and Marshall Bell speak about their roles in "Stand In Me"; film historian John Bingtson discuss "Steamboat Bill Jr."; and meet the adorable, petite 91-year-old Caren Marsh-Doll, who was the stand-in for Judy Garland in "The Wizard of Oz."

Leon Vitali, casting director on films such as "Full Metal Jacket" and "The Shining," offered very insightful details about working with Stanley Kubrick. The midnight screening of "The Shining" was a sellout, and teens from Grady College and the University of Georgia could be heard screaming for miles.

My job as a panelist is very rewarding. All of the guests associated with the films appear one morning to discuss a particular topic. This year, it was how movies affect our culture. The rest of the time, I watch movies, and have lunch and dinner backstage with Osborne, invited guests and the wonderful hospitable people of Athens.

Osborne, the gracious and knowledgeable host who people see on TV, is the real deal. It always stirs my heart to see him so accessible to festival attendees each year. Whether to listen for a few moments or take a photo with fans, he never ducks the crowd.

Diana Saenger is webmaster of

www.ClassicMovieGuide.com

, and she covers the theater scene for this newspaper.

Want to learn more?

  • For facts on Robert Osborne's Classic Film Festival, visit

www.robertosbornefilmfestival.com/about/

.

  • Robert Osborne will be part of the first TCM Classic Film Festival taking place in Los Angeles on April 22–25. Details at

www.tcm.com/festival

.

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