Traverse City Film Festival concludes its ninth year
By Jackie Charniga
Editor in Chief
Last month, without the security of even a press badge to cling to, I stood awkwardly close to a collection of potted plants, eyeing a sea of yellow badges and wondering how a nameless pedestrian such as I was allowed into such exclusive company. For the Traverse City Film Festival, however, it is not customary to leave fans out in the metaphorical cold. Rather, they are offered drinks and the opportunity to hobnob with the vital and influential mechanics of such an event: moderators, producers, and the directors themselves.
Walking around crowded office space, I encountered my first interviewee, Michael Mittelstaedt. A moderator for the festival-released film “Propaganda”, Mittelstaedt is a documentarist as well as an instructor at the prestigious Interlochen Academy of the Arts, a fine arts boarding high school located in northwest Michigan. He spoke briefly about his historical documentaries aimed towards younger audiences, his life as a family man, and most extensively on the festival and the profound involvement of Michigan born director, Michael Moore. Mittelstaedt spoke highly of Moore, the man responsible not only for the inception of the film festival, but also for transforming the area into a venue possible to accommodate one.
“Michael Moore is very active in the Traverse City community…he has done so much for the theatres in the area that I wouldn’t be surprised if he also shoveled the snow out in front,” Mittelstaedt joked. He also mentioned that there is a possibility that Moore will be attempting to open a documentary theatre in New York, which would certainly be further indication of his devotion to film and its future accessibility to the public.
Lesley Tye, a screenwriting teacher at Interlochen and moderator at this event, gave a lecture on Northwestern Michigan’s campus in partnership of the festival. The seminar, whose rate for attendance was simply five dollars, pinpointed the discrepancies between screenplays and more acceptable forms of literature. When asked how one can bridge the gap for scripts between cinematic guidelines and a respected piece of literature, Tye stated, “Film is a visually driven medium. As a screenwriter, you must not be afraid to think cinematically.” At the end of her lecture, Tye conducted a Skype conversation with the screenwriters of The English Teacher, one of the most star-studded films in the festival, once again bringing to light the ease with which audience members can interact with their surroundings.
Another party guest, Jeffrey Morgan, is a Traverse City Film Festival veteran and participant, and has been actively pursuing his cinematic career since 2002. Owner of Prometheus Motion Pictures, Morgan has worked as a cinematographer and a director in Michigan. When questioned on his past participation in the event, he commented that he was a volunteer for its maiden voyage but quickly became “disenfranchised” with the festival. “It is an amazing venue of entertainment, but they aren’t exactly showing something anything new.” Morgan went on to describe that while the films are great; they are simply not current enough to be showcased in such a high-profile event. “Some of the films are playing in regular theatres downstate!” he exclaimed. Morgan is currently working on an episodic horror movie that is filming in Michigan.
My briefest yet most provocative interview was during a conversation between Brian Spitz and Patrick Moote, respectively, the director and the champion of the documentary entitled “Unhung Hero.” The documentary chronicles the journey Patrick makes after discovering that one of the reasons his ex-girlfriend rejected his proposal was due to his less than satisfactory “size”. This comment sparked an international conversation about the quest for the truth behind an age-old question: does size really matter? Spitz’s parting reflections on his film were on the sensitive nature of man…or at least on man’s most sensitive appendage. “If you want to really break up with a man,” Spitz shrugged, “You know what to say.”