As part of my coverage of the 2016 TCM Classic Film Festival (which I’ll abbreviate to TCMFF from hereon), I’m debuting a new feature for my blog–The Road to #TCMFF 2016. Pieces in the series will focus not only on things to do and see while at TCMFF, but also on the fan culture associated with the biggest classic movie festival of them all.

Today I start with what any person following the festival and its fans on social media will notice–that classic film fans love of TCM extends to wearing items declaring their movie love–buttons. All over social media posts about buttons can be found. Buttons bought in advance; buttons won and worn at the event; and buttons hoarded as beloved trinkets.

Here are some social media posts past and recent showing off fans’ TCMFF buttons:

Met the lovely Alice Maltin, wife of Leonard Maltin, at Club TCM and she gave me this button! #tcmff #movies #film

A photo posted by Nitrate Diva (@thenitratediva) on

Buttons from previous #TCMFF s

A photo posted by CitizenScreen (@citizenscreen) on

As you can infer by blogger Kim Luperi’s (I See a Dark Theater) tweet, the festival’s been producing official buttons since the 2012 edition. Fans promoting the festival on social media were awarded the buttons when they went to its Info Desk. Eventually the program was expanded to the general festival goer. Anyone could win a button by finding a roving Social Media Producer and asking for one or answering a trivia question. 

From a marketing perspective, it was a smart move by TCMFF to give away fandom buttons. They’re small, relatively inexpensive items that pack a big emotional reward for fans. They’re worn at the festival and outside of it. They’re featured throughout social media before, during, and after the fest. If a fan doesn’t want to put a hole in a favorite clothing item, festival lanyards provide a perfect landing strip. That’s free promotion performed by fans with enthusiasm for a beloved broadcaster. Entrusting the button giveaways to the Social Producers meant earning a button becomes a fan distracting game at an event where the lines start for screenings an hour or more before showtimes.

My Lanyards and Buttons
I hang my film festival lanyards and buttons on my closet door’s handle. I’ve attended every one represented here save one. Its button was a gift. Can you guess which one?

I confess I’m excited about collecting buttons when I’m at the fest this month! I find the idea fun. I’d like to decorate my lanyard, and the buttons will give me something to talk about with others after the event. I have a collection of lanyards and buttons from other festivals that’s almost complete. I went on a cleaning binge one year and disposed of a few lanyards and recycled a few festival program books, which the part of me that enjoys collecting movie-related items like books, postcards, and prints regrets.

I imagined others like the buttons for the same reasons and more. Just like clothing and style, subcultural or not, can indicate what social tribe(s) a person belongs to, these buttons show their owners to be part of “Club TCM” (a concept turned into an actual place at the festival). They’re a group ranging from devoted to extremely hardcore. Members may or may not be shy in person, but are very extroverted in sharing their love, praise, constructive criticisms, and fan art of the network online. Even if the TCM variant of classic film fans have nothing else in common but love of the station, the buttons are signifiers they share something major to talk about and bond over.

Since I’ve not attended the festival yet, I searched social media for previous attendees to ask about their buttons. I received responses via the Facebook group Going to TCM Classic Film Festival! and Twitter. The following are selected responses.

Christy Putnam

Christy Putnam, San Jacinto College Instructor, Classic Film Examiner Reporter, & The Silver Screen Oasis Administrator

Christy has attended TCMFF since its beginning in 2010. She’s been collecting the official buttons since 2012. She usually wears them on her lanyard, but she never wears all of them at the same time. She doesn’t wear her buttons too often outside of the festival. She doesn’t usually display them at work, just when she goes to Fathom events. When she looks at her buttons, they help her remember how much fun she had the night she saw a film or at the event where she acquired them. She hangs all her lanyards with buttons by a display box near her bed that has a photo of her as a baby with her mom and a photo of her with her son as a baby, a vintage beaded bag, and a few other personal items. Obviously, she stores her buttons with other items of great emotional importance.

Stephen Reginald

Stephen Reginald, Writer, Editor, Consultant, Social Media Strategist, Neighborhood Blogger in Chicago’s South Loop, & Classic Film Expert

Stephen attended his first TCMFF last year, and he’ll attend again this year. He wears his buttons on his festival badge. He doesn’t wear them outside of the TCMFF. He stores his buttons in his bedroom. He keeps them attached to his festival badge, which hangs on the doorknob there. To him, the buttons are mementos. They help him relive happy memories of the festival, and they’re reminders of some great film experiences. He had fun getting the buttons and talking with the person that gave them to him and also talking about the performers and/or the movies depicted on them. When he sees his buttons at home, he thinks of the movies he saw and/or the actors who starred in them.

Rhonda Broyles

Rhonda Broyles, San Antonio, TX, Decision Science Analyst, Lover of All Things TCM & TCMFF

This year’s festival will be Rhonda’s fourth, and she’s been collecting the buttons every year she’s attended. She wears her buttons on her official lanyard. She’s wearing two now to fit them all. She does wear her buttons outside of the fest. Her office wears lanyards, so she’ll usually wear her TCM swag the first week back.  Her friends all know this has become a tradition, so the buttons are a kind of a conversation starter. Usually everybody’s first question is, “Who did you see?!” Rhonda loves buttons, and she’s been collecting pins and buttons since the late seventies, so she loves the hunt! She knows they’re something she’ll always have. Her buttons make her think of the whole experience, walking down the red carpet, meeting a star or two, the buzz of Hollywood. After the festival’s done, she’s got a place at her office where her lanyards hang until the next year. Having them there makes her happy.

Readers, do you have treasures from film festivals you’ve attended? Comment about your keepsakes and what they mean to you below! They don’t have to be TCMFF buttons.

I’m not done writing about TCMFF buttons yet! Look for an upcoming interview with an entrepreneurial artist and TCM fan, who sells her own TCMFF-related jewelry.

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