Michael Moore’s Traverse City Film Festival is one of the largest fests in the Midwest.

Michael Moore has never been shy about sharing his opinions with the world, so it wasn’t strange to find out that the director watched over 300 films this year, searching for the best of the best, from blockbuster to indie, to share with the citizens and film lovers who attend the Traverse City Film Festival. Over five film-filled days, TCFF will be showing everything from MovieMaker’s Weekend Pick, The Act of Killing to Sunlight Jr., a drama starring Naomi Watts and Matt Dillon, to Propagranda, a film “purportedly” showing footage smuggled out of North Korea to Michael Apted’s 56 Up. The Traverse City Film Festival will be showing “just great movies,” as their tagline states, beginning this coming Tuesday, July 30 to Sunday, August 4.

Lara Colocino (MM): Tell us about the history of Traverse City Film Festival.

Katy Gwizdala (KG): The Traverse City Film Festival (TCFF) was founded in 2005 by Academy Award-winning filmmaker Michael Moore, who wanted to bring the very best movies of the year to an audience that might not otherwise get the chance to see them. Along with the annual six-day film festival, TCFF, a charitable and educational non-profit organization, also runs two year-round venues, including the State Theatre, recently rated the #1 Movie Theater in the World by the MPAA.

MM: Why was Traverse City chosen as the location for your festival, and what does the event do for the community at large?

KG: Michael fell in love with the natural beauty of the town, along with the kindness and generosity of the Traverse City community. The State Theatre and TCFF are completely community-based, volunteer-run and mission driven organization that would not exist without the hard work of its volunteers. TCFF exists to serve the community and gives back through excellent programming, and special community and educational events at least once a week. The state and the film festival both helped create and help to sustain a vibrant and economically strong downtown area.

MM: Considering that Traverse City is by invitation only, how do you encourage new filmmakers, and how do you seek them out? 

KG: This year Michael watched over 300 films. He spends countless hours researching and watching films from around the world that he’s heard of through word-of-mouth or that have traveled the festival circuit. Every year he brings us a program packed with incredible films, from blockbusters to indie flicks that hardly anyone has seen before. Some of the filmmakers here were posting their documentaries and films to Vimeo and YouTube before they were invited to the festival. So, to all the young filmmakers out there, you need not be discouraged by the invitation only premise of this festival. If you put your video out there and it makes a splash, we’ll find you and celebrate it.

MM: Your website mentions that a special emphasis is given to films which have been overlooked elsewhere. How do you choose these films and why do you think this is important?

KG: The day the festival ends, TCFF begins searching for the “hidden gems” that might not have received the attention they deserve. Whether that means watching thousands of submissions, calling film institutes and commissions worldwide, communicating with filmmakers and industry professionals or attending screenings in New York, LA and beyond, TCFF does it’s best to make sure the Traverse City audience has access to the best films of the year. As Michael Moore stated in the TCFF mission statement, “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.”


MM: What can attendees expect from the festival this year?

KG: Attendees can expect a return of all the things that made the festival great, as well as plenty of new features to make this festival the best one yet. TCFF will have “just great movies” as it always does, and we’re bringing over 85 filmmakers in from around the world to talk about their movies and the industry. We’ll also see the cinema salon and film school make a return.

This year, we’re introducing a lot of free movies, so you’ll be able to enjoy the festival no matter what kind of budget you have. We’re also introducing night panels, so night owls don’t always have to wake up so early to listen to their favorite filmmakers discuss movies and the industry. Most importantly, we’re introducing a new venue this year: the Con Foster Museum on the shore of the lake has been renovated into a fantastic new theatre called the Bijou by the Bay. We’re extremely proud of it, and it will operate year round, even after the festival ends!

MM: The 2012 festival had some impressive special guests, such as Susan Sarandon and Wim Wenders. Who are some of the major celebrity sponsors or attendees this year?

KG: This year, in addition to the numerous lesser-known filmmakers presenting their equally fantastic works, TCFF will be hosting the legendary filmmaker Michael Apted, the man behind the Up Series, which Roger Ebert has called “one of the best films of all time.” We will also have Elaine Stritch presenting her documentary, Elaine Stritch: Shoot Me, in addition to a special Hollywood guest (and Michigan local) for a special screening of his new film.

MM: What, in your opinion, does Traverse City do better than any other film festival?

KG: The thing TCFF does best is give every guest, volunteer and filmmaker a memorable experience like nowhere else. We may not be the biggest festival out there, but there’s a reason over 90 percent of our attendees return! We like to believe that it’s a culmination of things that make the TCFF great: the movie selection, the volunteers, the charming small town of Traverse City and the natural beauty of Michigan. MM

For more information on the Traverse City Film Festival, click here.