Leonard Maltin is perhaps contemporary film criticism’s only (living) household name. His annual movie guide, which circulated from 1969 to 2015, was one of the few indispensable volumes on the subject, featuring over 20,000 pithy and scrupulously researched capsule reviews of classic and contemporary films and an iconic rating system of BOMB to four stars. A spinoff, Leonard Maltin’s Classic Movie Guide, is alive and well in its third edition. For this writer, who caught the film bug at a young age, Maltin’s book was more than a mere consumer guide; it was a cinematic North Star. And I’m not alone.
It makes sense then that this widely admired critic and historian should have a film festival bearing his name. From Friday, May 10 through Sunday, May 12, “MaltinFest” will debut with the aim to “bring together the film community by sharing hidden gems both new and old.” Nine films will screen at Hollywood’s historic Egyptian Theatre in partnership with the American Cinematheque, several of which will be attended by special guests: Phil Rosenthal, Alexander Payne, Laura Dern, Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski, to name a few. Two podcasts will be recorded on the spot. Books will be signed by eight visiting authors. “Community and kindness” are the operative words. This is a fest dedicated to the common good.
MaltinFest can be seen as a continuation of the appendices found in Maltin’s movie guides in which the author highlights films that he feels didn’t receive their due when they were first released. “I don’t know any critic who doesn’t relish the opportunity to champion an overlooked movie, an underdog,” Maltin says. Like Ebertfest, the annual series started by the late critic Roger Ebert and his wife Chaz in 1999, MaltinFest is a celebration of excellence and a hangout for cinephiles of all varieties, tastes and predilections. It is also a thoroughly family affair. Maltin’s daughter Jessie, who co-hosts the podcast Maltin on Movies and curates her father’s social media presence, came up with the idea. “She’s been after me,” Maltin says. “Really bugging me to do a film series or presentation of films I care about. A finite festival that gets the audience talking and having fun.” Alice Maltin, Leonard’s wife of 44 years, will also be there.
Watching movies in the age of digital streaming is more convenient than ever, but it can also be isolating, a trend which Leonard and Jessie hope to reverse. “There really is nothing quite like being in a theater,” Maltin muses. “Especially Grauman’s Egyptian, which has my favorite screen in town. I like to sit in one of the top rows near the back, so you are at eye level with that screen.” Venerated institutions such as the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and the UCLA Film and Television Archive are contributing to the fest. “My dream is to be able to travel with it,” says Jessie. “To work with schools. We’re offering weekend badges for $25 for educators and students.” For Sunday’s program, which falls on Mother’s Day, anybody with a badge can bring their mother for free.
And what about the movies themselves? Some of the selections, such as Alexander Payne’s audacious 1996 comedy Citizen Ruth, have accumulated small but devoted followings over time, but there are still too few people who have experienced the glories of Bela Lugosi Meets a Brooklyn Gorilla, whose title alone secures it a spot in the cult cinema firmament. A 35mm print of Maggie Greenwald’s lovely Songcatcher, a backwoods drama set in the early 20th century against the Appalachian folk music scene, will be supplied by the filmmaker herself. And it simply wouldn’t be a Leonard Maltin event without the inclusion of some vintage short subjects, which will precede each feature. The titles of the shorts aren’t listed on the website, but Maltin advised, “Be prepared to sing along with the bouncing ball.”
MaltinFest will take place at the Egyptian Theatre, 6712 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood; Fri., May 10 through Sun., May 12. For schedule and pricing, visit: leonardmaltin.com/maltinfest.