2014 Traverse City Film Festival

The 10th year of the Traverse City Film Festival took place on July 29-August 3 in beautiful Traverse City, Michigan. The brain child of film maker, Michael Moore, each year has seen the festival grow in the number of films offered, venues, attendees, and prestige. Nearly one million tickets have been purchased in those ten years. Film lovers attend from across the country, combining it with a vacation in a truly gorgeous part of Michigan. Aside from the many traditional venues, free films are offered nightly on a giant screen on the beach and on a floating boat. There are free movies every day and plenty of films for children. There is also continuous free music, free filmmaker panels and free shuttles between venues. There are parties nearly every night. There are an incredible number of volunteers to make sure your experience goes well. With the number of people involved, it is astounding at how well this goes each year and astounding too at how much everyone enjoys themselves.

The festival consists of more than one-hundred films. Many are documentaries, many are foreign films, some are film classics, some are recently released US films, and many are soon to be released independent films.

This year I was able to catch eight films (none of them documentaries) over the course of three and a half days. The first movie we saw was the Iranian film, MANUSCRIPTS DON’T BURN, which was a brilliant look at how intellectuals in Iran are routinely harassed by government thugs. This was not a documentary although it played like one. Directed by Mohammad Rasoulof, it deals with a specific fictional incident, weaving the lives of the men assigned to torture and kill as well as those being tormented. Truly terrifying. Highly recommended.

EXCUSE MY FRENCH, an Egyptian film, concerned a young Christian boy who is transferred to a Muslim school after the death of his wealthy father. He is an alien in many ways to the children at his new school despite being Egyptian. The film deals with his uneasy adjustment to his new surroundings. Although Egypt is still a democracy of sorts, the Muslim influence is strongly felt in the public school system. If this film had a fault, it was that Hany excelled in everything he attempted. By the end, you felt sorrier for his classmates than Hany. He was going to thrive in any environment.

TCFF 3SISTER (US) was our one disappointment at the festival and the only US film we saw. Billed as a film about how a family copes with a troubled teen, her troubles disappear almost instantly and it becomes a warm and cozy look at a brother and sister. Knowledge in how to help his sister comes too easily to the brother and we never doubt that things will turn out well. This was a first film by David Lascher and starred Reid Scott (VEEP) and Barbara Hershey as well as newcomer, Grace Kaufman. It should have been a lot edgier than it was. Only Barbara Hershey, playing her usual evil mother, seemed to sense this.

THE KEEPER OF LOST CAUSES (Denmark), based on the Jussi Adler-Olsen novel was my favorite film and offers a blueprint on how to turn a great novel into a great movie. A Danish detective screws up on a homicide case and is assigned to the cold case files. He is immediately drawn into the death of a female politician on a ferry boat, apparently a suicide victim. He and his intrepid partner solve the case although at some cost to themselves. The tension in this film from first frame to last was palpable. It is a truly creepy movie. Highly recommended.

A COFFEE IN BERLIN, a German film, is like a Jim Jarmusch movie as you might guess from the title. It takes place over the course of a day in the life of a twenty-something slacker looking for a cup of coffee. What starts out seeming trite and inconsequential begins to take on real heft by the film’s end. I liked this film a lot and even more in the days after.

CHILD’S POSE (Romania) is a brilliant look at the consequences of fanatical devotion to a child. Wonderfully played by Luminita Gheorghiu, CHILD’S POSE won top prize at the Berlin Film Festival. Cornelia, a retired architect, is a mother who will do anything to keep her boy out of jail after he hits and kills a child on the motorway. There are scenes in this movie that made me cringe as much as the scenes of torture in MANUSCRIPTS. Highly recommended.

BLIND DATES (Georgia) documents the attempts of an aging man to find a wife. His parents are desperate for this event to take place. When a possible match comes on the scene, it is up to him to help her husband readjust to life outside prison walls. This film goes off in all sorts of ways you don’t expect. It is sweet, comic, and sad. Recommended.

TCFF 2A FIVE STAR LIFE (Italian) looks at the life of a woman who reviews five-star hotels. Her swank accommodations at hotels across the globe belie her rather pathetic personal life. Played by the gorgeous Margherta Buy, we are tempted to find her life appealing until we see what her career choice has cost her. Highly recommended.

I think the quality of this year’s films excelled those of the past. There were many films that sold out within an hour of being available for ticket purchase. You can go online and find out more about the festival by just googling the name. If you decide to go, I strongly recommend becoming a friend of the festival so you get the opportunity to purchase your tickets a week earlier than the rest of the attendees.

People ask me how I can see eight films in three and a half days. There were people at the festival who saw fifteen. I am just a beginner.


Patti Abbott