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Traverse City Film Festival: Inspiring Run

A few of the right tools, a freewheeling spirit and hard work, and voila, the Traverse City Film Festival pulls of another inspiring performance.

I was thinking back on the Traverse City Film Festival and the half-dozen films I saw and the panel discussions I heard and the various people I met along the way, and something occurred to me. Heading into the film festival, I think I just generally thought I was looking forward to seeing some good movies. But along the way I came to realize that really I was looking for something else, and the great thing is that I found it in abundance.

The thing I was looking for was inspiration. It sounds corny, I know. But it’s true. I wanted to hear directors and producers talk about why they made movies. What mission they had for a particular movie. What they felt in the making of the movie. What they really were hoping to give birth to.

Of course, the Traverse City Film Festival itself is a marvelous example of inspiration, its story of coming to being, the story of the State Theatre renovation being wrapped into it. The remarkable success of the film festival coming right out of the gate. The short time frame that people worked under to make that first one happen.

(At one of the early morning planning sessions I sat in on, I spoke with the man who coordinates the management of the films and the projection logistics. He also set up the system for Sundance and still runs it. When Michael Moore first called him to ask if he would be willing to help out, he said he just figured Moore meant for the July a year and six weeks from then, not the July six weeks from then.)

I naturally found inspiration in hearing Cuban filmmakers discuss what it’s like to work with virtually no money and old equipment. One Cuban filmmaker held up the camera he works with, basically a 10-year-old thing that is probably worse that what most Americans shoot their kids’ birthday parties with. He said that when he showed up in the United States to shoot professional baseball players for a film he was working on, they laughed at him. “But then I’d show them footage [on the tiny screen of his camera], and then they took me seriously,” he said.

And of course I found inspiration in the documentary directors who were so committed to telling an important story of our time. One 20-something documentary filmmaker had the idea to have his friends from all over the globe shoot video on the day Obama was elected, and then he pieced together a documentary, from video shot early in the morning till well past midnight, from Obama’s home neighborhood in Chicago’s Hyde Park to Paris, France, to Homer, Alaska, to India, to St. Louis, Missouri, to Manhattan and Brooklyn…well, you get the idea. Great idea, great execution. Great inspiration.

And, of course, I found inspiration in the people who showed up in the films. The school principal who grew up in Harlem, went to Harvard and figured he’d fix the education system in America by the time he was 27. Now he’s in his mid-40’s (guessing) and he’s running a set of charter schools for inner city kids that is getting really amazing results. And inspiration from the parents of the kids who were willing to go to great lengths to get their kids out of schools that are basically failure factories. One school they discussed had put through 60,000 kids in however many decades and 40,000 had dropped out. Crazy stuff.

I was stuck by notion that so often, genius is simply having the courage to say what everybody knows to be true. That was inspiring.

So, anyway, yeah. Inspiration all over the place. Wait, I forgot to say, I was entertained too and just plain had a great time.

My request: Coen Brothers are the featured directors next year, show all their films, have them attend and do lots of panels. I mean, they're Minnesotans, Midwesterners like us.

p.s. The film fest is past, but the Filmgoer magazine that we produce still has dozens of great ideas for having fun in Traverse City. Check it out.

Thanks, Traverse City Film Festival.—Jeff Smith is editor of Traverse, Northern Michigan's Magazine

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Tags: Jeff Smith, Michael Moore, State Theatre, Traverse City, Traverse City Film Festival

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Comment by Mary Ellen Geist on August 2, 2010 at 10:31pm
great piece. love this. i agree. (coen brothers, too) thank you, traverse city film festival. and thank you, my north/traverse magazine. m.e.

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