BEST FILM FESTIVAL EVER?
I just got back from the Traverse City Film Festival in Northern Michigan. It’s amazing. Having attended a pretty wide range of festivals, including some of those “prestigious” international festivals, this is the one that really made me appreciate movies (including my own) again. How did this happen?
It’s a weird festival in a lot of ways - it takes place in a small tourist town on Lake Michigan, one of those summer towns I’ve only read about or seen in movies, but never visited. On the surface, it seems more appropriate for a big Fourth of July celebration or something, not an international film festival. Traverse City is pure Americana…there’s a Main Street USA (Front Street) with a beautiful 100 year old single-screen theater, several bookstores (as in more than one, seriously!), there are stores selling fudge, ice cream, kettle corn, and the famous local cherry-jams and the city is, by my estimate, about 99.9% white (I might have been the entire .1%).
The founder is Michael Moore, and at some point over nine years ago, he decided to bring indie films, foreign films, and some pretty hard-core documentaries to this small town in middle America. But instead of just using Traverse City as the backdrop for the festival, he decided to make it part of the town..really getting the community involved and making it “their” festival as well. As a result, the festival is run (very effectively) by almost entirely local volunteers. Only two or three of the staff is full-time and paid. And they’re way better at their jobs than most festival staff. Also, they don’t accept film submissions. Michael and a few of his programmers hand-pick movies from other festivals, or get recommendations.
I don’t think I’ve ever felt as appreciated as a filmmaker or maybe even as a human being. Michael made a short but moving speech at the filmmaker lunch about cinema being the most popular art form and how important it is to him that filmmakers are treated with that respect (as artists) at this festival. They really backed it up:
Every single screening is packed (even theaters with 800 seat capacities), and the sound and projection are by far the best that I’ve had so far on this festival/theatrical run. There’s a theater manager at every screening that literally sits with you once the movie starts until you’ve told him if the sound and projection quality is okay with you. Somehow they managed to have other (much better) filmmakers come and moderate the panels and Q&A’s, so they’re really leading discussions about filmmaking. They put the name of the movie up on the marquee for every screening. They have a filmmaker lounge constantly stocked with food and refreshments donated by local restaurants. You can get tickets to any screening just by asking (I’ve never seen so many other movies at a festival ever). The people in Traverse City are so nice they will stop you on the street and compliment you about your movie and thank you earnestly for coming to the festival, so nice that when you’re crossing the street, they’ll roll down their car windows and yell “I loved your movie.” I played with the festival volunteers in a fucking kickball game!
I’ve definitely already doused myself in the Kool Aid. I left Traverse City hoping that I would make another movie soon only so I might have another chance to go back to Traverse City.
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