The Traverse City Film Festival Sets Atendance Record

The Traverse City Film Festival Sets Atendance Record

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The Traverse City Film Festival marked its fifth anniversary year with record-setting admissions and turnouts for free nightly films on the waterfront, along with the announcement of a new Comedy Festival to kick off this winter.

More than 96,000 admissions were tallied for the six-day 2009 festival, which ran from July 28 through Aug. 2 and included five sessions of a new film school, five daily panel discussions and four parties. That’s over 16,000 more than the previous two years, marking yet another milestone for this popular annual event founded by Oscar-winning filmmaker Michael Moore in 2004.

“We started this festival with the idea that if we brought an excellent variety of first-run and independent films to Traverse City, people would come,” said Moore. “And they have, in increasing numbers.

“We sold more tickets in the first week of sales this year than we sold during the whole festival in 2008. This has been the best festival yet, with the largest crowds.”
In all, audiences were able to see screenings of 71 features and 50 short films representing more than 30 countries and five continents; over 65 percent were sell-outs. Crowds attending free daily panel discussions at Traverse City’s historic City Opera House got to listen to visiting filmmakers explore topics relating to the film industry.

Panelists and visiting filmmakers included directors, actors and other industry insiders including legendary filmmaker Paul Mazursky, who was this year’s special filmmaker tribute honoree, actress Christine Lahti, Jeff Garlin (“Curb Your Enthusiasm”), Larry Charles (“Bruno”), Annemarie Jacir and Ossama Bawardi (“Salt of This Sea”), Erik Poppe (“Troubled Water”), Matt Tyrnauer (“Valentino: The Last Emperor”), Michelle Esrick and Wavy Gravy (“Woodstock,” “Saint Misbehavin’: The Wavy Gravy Story”), Robert Byington (“Harmony and Me,” “Registered Sex Offender”), Ben Steinbauer (“Winnebago Man”), Aung Htun (“Burma VJ”), Mani Haghighi (“About Elly”), Patton Oswalt (“Big Fan”), Yoav Shamir (“Defamation”), Scott Kennedy (“The Garden”), Justin Rice and Kevin Corrigan (“Harmony and Me”), Megumi Sasaki (“Herb & Dorothy”), Joe Berlinger (“Crude”), Cathal Black and Thomas Lynch (“Learning Gravity”), Jim Czarnecki (“Soundtrack for a Revolution”), Emily Kunstler (“William Kunstler: Disturbing the Universe”), Gloria LaMorte and Paola Mendoza (“Entre nos”), Wes Studi and Kevin Willmott (“The Only Good Indian”), Kirby Dick (“Outrage”), Cindy and Craig Corrie (“Rachel”), Robert Stone (“Earth Days”) and Kevin McMahon (“Waterlife”). The Michigan Film Office Advisory Council also held one of its regular meetings on the Opera House stage.

“All of the visiting filmmakers told us over and over that Traverse City is the greatest film festival they have ever been to,” Moore said. “They all say that Traverse City is such a welcoming, hospitable place, every year. And they spread the word.”

alt text Michael Moore in front of the State
Theater in Traverse City, MI

Popular free films on a giant inflatable screen on the bay nightly during the festival attracted huge crowds, including a record-setting 12,000 for a showing of “The Goonies.” In total, 40,000 people attended the free movies, which included live pre-movie entertainment with an impromptu performance by Wavy Gravy and Country Joe McDonald of “Woodstock” fame. Paul Kantner also appeared at the nighttime screening of “Woodstock.”
Moore and comedian Garlin announced during the course of this year’s festival that they are planning to organize a new Traverse City Comedy Arts Festival. Likely to be held this winter, it will feature a weekend of movies, stand-up and sketch comedy and other entertainment.

“We’ve actually talked to some great people who are going to come to Traverse City for this first comedy festival,” said Moore, adding that more details will be released soon. “This is something we have been talking about for a long time.”

An inaugural package of races including a Stars of the Mile race for elite runners and 5K Costume Race attracted both participants and crowds along the race routes. Nicole Edwards of Ann Arbor was the women’s winner in the Stars of the Mile with a finish time of four minutes and 38 seconds; Rondell Ruff

of Ann Arbor took first for the men with a time of four minutes 10 seconds.
The overall female winner in the 5K Run/Walk was Carol Van Cleff of McLean, VA; Ben Wynsma of Suttons Bay came in first for the men. Meanwhile, Garlin served as judge of those in costume and gave first place to Curt Emsing and family, who won two tickets to anywhere in the continental U.S. for coming dressed as “The Incredibles.”

“The Costume Race was pretty hilarious,” said film festival executive director Deb Lake. “The baby in the family of Incredibles was just adorable.”

That’s all in addition to one-of-a-kind moments like Jeff Garlin’s screening of two new episodes from the coming season of “Curb Your Enthusiasm” and Moore presenting a 20th anniversary showing of his first documentary, “Roger & Me,” after which he answered questions from Larry Charles on stage in front of a standing-room-only crowd.

>From its inception, the festival has been dependent on sponsors and volunteers, and 2009 was no different. Rallying behind the festival to underwrite costs were founding sponsor the Herrington-Fitch Foundation, sustaining sponsor FIM Group and venue sponsors Chateau Grand Traverse, One Up Web, Rainbow Rehabilitation and the Wilson Family, and Richard and Diana Milock.

Despite harsh economic times, more than 350 sponsors also donated $50,000-plus in goods and services. That’s in addition to 120 film, venue and event sponsors, about 60 percent of them businesses and organizations with the remainder of the donors being individuals.
The festival also depended on 1,300 active volunteers, including 120 volunteer managers, to staff venues and run everything from concessions to ticket sales.

“That includes people who worked at least 40 hours during the festival, with many of them working 40 hours a week for several weeks leading up to the festival,” Lake said.
As part of this year’s fifth anniversary events, Moore also named Susan Brown and Jason Pollock as honorary co-chairs this year and co-founders of the festival. Both were instrumental in running the festival in its inaugural year.

Festival award winners, announced during the closing night party, included:
Founders Prize for Funniest Fiction Film: In the Loop
Founders Prize for Best Foreign Fiction Film: Eden is West
Founders Prize for a First Time Filmmaker: Salt of This Sea
Founders Prize for Best Overall Documentary: Rachel
Founders Prize for Best Comedy Documentary: Winnebago Man
Stanley Kubrick Award for Bold and Innovative Filmmaking, Fiction Film: Bob Byington for “Harmony and Me” and “Registered Sex Offender”
Stanley Kubrick Award for Bold and Innovative Filmmaking, Documentary: “Defamation”
Best Fiction Film, Audience Award: “Departures”
Best Fiction Film US, Jury Award: “The Greatest”
Best Fiction Film Foreign, Jury Award: “Mary & Max”

Special Jury Prize, First Narrative Feature Film: Gloria La Morte and Paola Mendoza for “Entre nos”
Special Jury Prize, Human Spirit: “Everlasting Moments”
Special Jury Prize for Original Storytelling: “O’Horten”
Best Documentary, Audience Award: “Food, Inc.”
Best Documentary, Jury Award: “The Cove”
Best Foreign Documentary, Jury Award: “The End of the Line”
Special Jury Prize for Human Rights: “Which Way Home”
Special Jury Prize for Environmental Documentary: “Crude”
Special Jury Prize for a New Film Maker: Emily & Sarah Kunstler for “William Kunstler: Disturbing The Universe”

Firefighter’s Award for Best Comedy Film: “A Matter of Size”
Michigan Prize: “Learning Gravity
The sixth annual Traverse City Film Festival will be held from July 27 to Aug. 1, 2010. For more information, please contact the Traverse City Film Festival office at (231) 392-1134 or visit