Michael Moore's film fest blooms in Traverse City

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Michael Moore's influence in the film industry has given birth to one of the most progressive film festivals in the world. Nestled in an unlikely little resort town in northern Michigan, the people of Traverse City now bear host to an event that rivals some of the world's more established film festivals.

The whole project started out with the renovation of an old run-down shuttered movie house, The State Theater. It is now a year-round, community-based, mission-driven and volunteer-staffed art house that sits in the heart of downtown and serves as the cornerstone of the new festival. The volunteer workers take pride in its beauty with a display of marquee lights that are never missing a bulb, a theater ceiling that is a custom made light show representing the stars in the real evening sky. The highly respected and loved progressive filmmaker Moore now makes his home in Traverse City, runs the festival and serves as president of the board of directors.

What makes this whole festival unique is the way Moore has involved what seems to be the entire city in the massive project of bringing quality independent cinema to the general public, progressive content notwithstanding. 150 screenings of 150 films will take place at seven venues scattered throughout this quaint resort town. Also on the agenda:

* Free family feature films will be shown nightly on a 100 foot inflatable screen framed by the beautiful Grand Traverse Bay as background.
* Gearing up for the State Theater's 100th anniversary, one 100-year-old film will be featured each year until 2016. The epic 1911 silent film, L'Inferno, Italy's first feature film, based on Dante's Inferno, will be accompanied by live organ music.
* Community-in-the-round discussions will take place twice daily to let people share their thoughts and reactions in a stimulating outdoor environment.
* Free daily film industry panels will take place at the City Opera House, featuring informal discussions with actors and directors from many of the featured films in the festival.
* Twice daily classes at the Film School are available for those who want to study the art of filmmaking.

This and many other novel approaches to involving the public in the joy and power of cinema will be offered in this people-friendly festival.

Indications that this might be one of the most progressive festivals in the nation are revealed in the following examples:

* The festival kicks off with two films that happen to be top Progie Award winners for Best Progressive Films.

Icíar Bollaín's Spanish drama, Even the Rain scripted by Ken Loach's screenwriter, Paul Laverty, focuses on the historic water war in Bolivia, where local natives fought off corporations to retain free access to rain water.

This is joined by the powerful and inspiring true story, Made in Dagenham, starring Bob Hoskins and Sally Hawkins, about the women's fight for equal pay in the British Ford factory in Dagenham in 1968. To top this off, four women who were involved in the real life events portrayed in these two films will appear in person after the screenings.

* The first-ever film produced by the Traverse City Film Festival, Habanastation, by Cuban filmmaker Ian Padron, will be premiered here. The Cuban-Michigan co-production lists the people of Traverse City as producers and is the first film completed using the TCFF Cuban Film Fund.

* A major salute to public employees and unions spotlighting the 75th anniversary of what the BBC calls "one of the most important events in the history of Western Civilization," the Great Flint Sit Down Strike, will include two working-class documentaries, one old and one new. The world premiere of a film by Victor Reuther's grandson, Brothers on the Line, is joined by a rare screening of the classic 1979 documentary about the women at the Flint Strike, Babies With Banners.

* This six days of carefully crafted cinema watching closes with a "salute to the working people who make this country what it is" and to the power of cinema to represent the struggle, with a special screening of Chaplin's 1936 silent masterpiece, Modern Times, the ultimate comedic satire of capitalism and it's assembly line mentality.

These and all the other important films that will be shown at the 2011 Traverse City Film Festival can be found at the website.

Photo: A scene from Made in Dagenham from the film's website.

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