Restored theatre ready to greet visitors with return of Capitolfest

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Capitolfest will return to Rome Capitol Theatre, 220 E. Dominick St., Friday through Sunday, Aug. 13-15.

Every summer since 2003, with the exception of 2020 due to COVID-19, Capitolfest has brought classic movie fans from around the world to Rome for a three-day film festival that features the silent movies and talkies from the early days of the 20th century.

“It started out as a day-and-a-half long show, but has gradually grown to a festival that starts on Friday morning, sees another full day on Saturday, then concludes early Sunday evening,” said Capitol Arts Complex Executive Director Art Pierce.

Capitolfest features movies from the 1910s, 20s and 30s. Most of the movies that comprise Capitolfest are typically shown in 35mm film prints (not digitally), just as they would have been when they were new.

Many of these prints come from film archives around the country, such as the UCLA Film & Television Archive in Los Angeles, the George Eastman Museum in Rochester, the Library of Congress in Washington, and the Museum of Modern Art in New York City.  

“The  movies for Capitolfest are selected for their rarity, but also for their entertainment value,” Pierce said. “Those selecting the films to be shown pour over many pages of period film reviews to find titles worthy of inclusion, then work with film archives to dig out these neglected gems.”

Over the past several months, Rome Capitol Theatre has been going through a restoration to bring back the look of the theatre in 1939.

“The grand re-opening last month on July 17 gave visitors a first-hand look at the restored theatre — the perfect setting when Rome Capitol Theatre turns back the hands of time on the movie screen with Capitolfest 18,” said Rick Lewis, marketing manager for the Capitol Arts Complex.

Pierce said one of the most gratifying things for the Capitol staff about Capitolfest is that the theatre has the opportunity to showcase the great restoration work the archives are doing to preserve these films.

“We feel it’s very important that these films get screened so their work can be appreciated,” the executive director said. “As we say around here, the final step of restoration is exhibition, and that’s where we come in. By showing these movies in a 1928 movie theater, they can be experienced by an audience just as they were when they were new. There are several wonderful classic film festivals around the country, but we are presently the only one that takes place entirely in a vintage movie palace.”

Each Capitolfest features a wide selection of actors, titles, both silent and talkies,  and also a featured actor. This year, Capitolfest features Constance and Joan Bennett.

“Joan and Constance Bennett were unusual in that they were sisters who had successful careers completely unconnected to each other,” Pierce explained. “Although she had appeared in a few silent movies, Joan became a star with the coming of sound, and we’ll be showcasing her in four films from her most prolific period on the screen, as she emerged from a featured player to a star, 1931-32, and another film from 1938, by which time she had become a major box office draw. We’ll also be screening her 1941 movie, ‘Man Hunt,’ directed by Fritz Lang, on the Thursday evening before Capitolfest proper begins.”

Constance, who was 5 1/2 years older than Joan, had a career that started in the silent era and saw her become a star before her talkie debut in 1929.

“We’ll be showing four of her movies, including two from the silent era and two talkies, the last being from fairly late in her career, 1942,” Lewis said. “Both of the silent films will have live musical accompaniment on the Capitol’s Möller theater organ, which was installed in the theater in 1928 for the express purpose of providing music for films. This instrument has approximately 900 pipes of varying sizes and a full array of percussion and sound effects.”

Film historian Kevin Brownlow has dubbed silent movies, “live cinema,” because while the filmed portion was created some time ago (in this case more than 90 years ago), the musical accompaniment is being created at the moment the audience witnesses it.

“We’re fortunate to have three of the best silent movie organists in the business at this year’s Capitolfest, Dr. Philip C. Carli, Ben Model, and David Peckham,” Lewis said. “Besides the films with the Bennett sisters, there are several other movies on the bill featuring stars such as William S. Hart, Spencer Tracy, Jack Benny, Cary Grant, and Clara Bow.”

In addition to the three days of movies, Capitolfest has a social mixer on Thursday, Aug. 12 for Capitolfest attendees, as well as a dealers room grand opening and a movie. This year’s movie is “Man Hunt” featuring Joan Bennett. This provides an opportunity for festival-goers to casually meet one another and to become acquainted with the format of the upcoming weekend. Refreshments will be provided.

At the last Capitolfest in 2019, attendees came from more than 28 U.S. states and parts of Canada. Tickets can be purchased for the entire three-days, or for individual days or parts of days, including the Thursday night pre-festival movie.

For details on start times and a complete schedule of movies featured during Capitolfest 18, visit www.RomeCapitol.com.

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