Traverse City Film Fest: Day 1 Recap

I continue to be impressed with the variety the Film Fest is offering this week. I, who shuffle down city streets with my pockets turned out (I have no money and no place among the beautiful people), have attended a carnival on Front Street, a seminar by a world class screenwriting professor, a panel on Palestinian filmmaking and a pair of great independent films, with the promise of more to come.

But this is a day 1 recap. The film festival began for most of us at around 5 p.m. on Tuesday, with the kickoff block party. Front Street very quickly developed a carnival-esque atmosphere as eager festivalgoers waited for films to start while milling around through a juggler, local food vendors, a few bands, some lost-looking buskers and the balloon suits anyone who was there has to remember.

And those balloons…wow. Apparently the lovechild of Salvador Dali and Bozo the Clown, artist Jason Hackenwerth crafted these wearable, person-sized confections of weirdness. They stole the show at the block party, and continue to reappear throughout the night like an early Universal monster movie sequel (Balloon Creature 2: Son of Balloon Creature). They were eye-catching, interesting and vaguely existentially terrifying, in the best possible way. You can view a few pictures here.

There was an impressive crowd in front of the State for the official festival opening, but it formed so fast that I almost missed it. It was as if all the humanity spread over the block from Cass to Park Streets was suddenly distilled into the 500 feet of frontage at the State. It must have happened while my back was turned.

After words from Traverse City mayor Mike Estes and festival founders, including Michael Moore, Moore and fellow founder Doug Stanton presented the Michigan Filmmaker of the Year award to Rich Brauer, who fully deserves it, if only for firmly remaining a Michigan-based filmmaker, which can’t have been easy, especially before the new filmmaker incentives.

When Brauer took the stage, I was slow to put the pieces together, and couldn’t remember what he had worked on. I said so out loud and, after being publicly chided by a stranger for not remembering, and confirming on my own, I can tell you Brauer was cinematographer on Escanaba in da Moonlight (2001) and has directed six films of his own, beginning in 1988.

The opening night movie followed. I didn’t go in with high expectations for Troubled Water, but it really was the sharp piece of drama I’d been told it would be. It was my first time in the City Opera House and my first experience with Norwegian cinema, and, while I couldn’t see the opera house (the lights were already down when I made it inside) I did go to sleep with images before my eyes of Norwegian women staring down the camera with anger or despair.

The opening night party is not somewhere I would have been without the blessing of media creds. I’m glad I was there; everyone should be feted sometimes. Apparently, Tuesday was my night (along with several hundred other people).

An unplanned, probably dangerous nighttime bike ride home closed out my film fest day 1. What about you? Experiences like mine, or different? Did anyone end up at Open Space for Men in Black? Feel free to comment below.

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