When I wrote recently about my bucket list, I included a desire to go to a world-famous film festival such as Sundance or Cannes someday. That’s still on my list, but my interest was rewarded recently with a trip to Traverse City, Michigan, for its 14th annual film festival. Filmmaker Michael Moore created and still directs the Traverse City Film Festival. Whether or not you agree with his politics, it has to be said that he has done wonderful things for this little town such as refurbishing area auditoriums and theaters making all ten festival venues attractive and comfortable. Traverse City burgeons in the summer with tourists who come for the water activities and the quaint surroundings, but thousands come in for the film festival as well. About 3,000 volunteers serve to ensure this festival is thoughtfully planned, well-organized and perfectly executed. My positive experience at the festival is a testament to the quality of this extraordinary festival.
Michael Moore is perhaps most famous for his documentaries, for which he received numerous awards including an Academy Award for Bowling for Columbine about the Columbine shootings. Moore has dabbled in acting and did a one-person show in 2017 on Broadway. He has written eight non-fiction books and done music videos for groups such as R.E.M. and Rage Against the Machine. He has a presence during the week of the festival, and I actually met and briefly spoke with him as he was walking down the street greeting visitors. The mission for the Traverse City Film Festival makes clear his devotion to quality films:
The Traverse City Film Festival is committed to showing “Just Great Movies” and helping to save one of America’s few indigenous art forms – the cinema. We are committed to showing great movies that both entertain and enlighten the audience. We need movies that seek to enrich the human spirit and the art of filmmaking, not the bottom line. Our goal is for people to leave the theater with the feeling that they just watched something special. – Michael Moore, President and Founder
TCFF (Traverse City Film Festival) is a well-run event. It is evident that the plan is to make the experience a pleasant one for all the theater patrons. Tickets to specific movies are sold in advance, but even when a film is sold out, tickets are usually available to those in standby lines. While most theater-goers stand in line before the movie to get the best seats, disabled people are invited to take a seat in the foyer of the theater or are allowed in the auditorium itself before the rush of those in line.
Buses run between theaters, so you can park your car in one of several free parking lots and enjoy the free rides. If you have just left a movie and are seeing another at the same venue, there is a “back-to-back” cue so that you have a better chance at a choice seat instead of going to the end of the regular ticket-holder line. The festival provides free beautiful handbooks of all the cinematic offerings, and every evening a free film is shown outdoors along the shores of the Grand Traverse Bay.
Before each movie, a volunteer musician entertains the audience as they wait for the film to begin, and then a fun little “short” is played. There are activities for young kids and filmmaking schools for high school and college students. Quite often the filmmakers are in attendance and stay for a Q & A session after the movie. Notable film stars often attend; this year actress Jane Fonda was given a lifetime achievement award, as was former talk show host Dick Cavett.
Choices for movies are broad including both feature films and documentaries, and I saw selections of each. My two favorites were Mary Goes Round, a feature film, and The Sentence, a documentary.
Mary Goes Round is about Mary, an addiction counselor, who gets a DUI, loses her job and boyfriend, and has to address her alcoholism. Her estranged father is begging Mary to visit and meet her seventeen-year-old half-sister for the first time. The father is dying of lung cancer, and the half-sister has little interest in a relationship with Mary. She finally learns that in helping others, she can deal more effectively with her own problems. This film is available for viewing on such movie sites as Amazon Prime.
The Sentence was a 2018 Sundance Audience Award winner; it deals with mandatory minimum prison sentences and The Girlfriend Problem, a little-known law that says not only is it illegal to sell drugs but those who enable or associate with the drug dealers are also guilty of the same crime. This is the story of Cindy Shank, a young woman whose drug-dealing boyfriend dies, and the police discover his stash in their apartment. They don’t immediately arrest her, and she moves on to marry a good man and have three children. One day there is an early morning knock at the door, and the police have a warrant for her arrest. She is sentenced to a mandatory 15 years for living with the dealer and not reporting his activities. Her brother documents the lives of her children and family during the years behind bars. Though her family tries to keep ties strong, her husband eventually asks for a divorce, and after authorities move her from a local prison in Michigan to one in Florida, it is almost impossible for her family to visit. Poignant interviews with the children and the family strike a chord, and when President Obama gives Cindy clemency after nine years, her homecoming left not a dry eye in the audience. The sympathetic accord was reinforced with the after-movie appearance onstage of Cindy, her three girls, Cindy’s parents, and her two brothers, one of whom is the filmmaker, Rudy Valdez, for a question and answer session. HBO has bought the rights to show this movie.
TCFF is an outstanding event that offers something valuable to a broad audience. It is well-run and is evolving every year to make an experience to be enjoyed by young and old. There are many fantastic film festivals across the country, and I urge film aficionados to check out the local festivals for opportunities that may be close to home.
Diane Repass is a retired tenured assistant professor
from The University of Dubuque and now a beloved
writer for Plaid Swan Inc. She received her M.A. from
The University of Northern Iowa in Cedar Falls, Iowa.
Plaid Swan is a women-owned marketing communications firm operating out of Cedar Rapids, Iowa. The firm represents clients across the United States in public relations, media planning, social and digital media, graphic design and strategic planning. Visit us online at PlaidSwan.com or on our social media channels as @PlaidSwan. Lines are meant to be crossed.