Patti Abbott: Traverse City Film Festival

In its sixth year in 2010, the Traverse City Film Festival takes place over six days in late July and early August in Traverse City, Michigan, a delightful town near the top of Michigan’s lower peninsula. Founded and run by Michael Moore, other notables such as Larry Charles, Jeff Garlin and Christina Lahti form a board of directors that plans the event. More than seventy-five films were screened (usually several times each) at six theaters this year. The 2010 films included recent high profile films like THE KIDS ARE ALL RIGHT, PLEASE GIVE, THE GIRL WHO PLAYED WITH FIRE, and SOLITARY MAN. The bill is filled out with foreign films from a variety of countries, shorts, documentaries, kid’s movies like MARY POPPINS and THE SECRET OF THE KELLS, classics like DODSWORTH and THE LAST COMMAND. Free films are shown every night on a huge outdoor screen next to the lake. This year those films included HELP, A HARD DAY’S NIGHT, RAISING ARIZONA , TWISTER, and INDIANA JONES AND THE LAST CRUSADE. Free shuttle buses make a continuous circuit of the event. There are also student films, film-making classes, child-care opportunities, an art far, continual free concerts. There are also panels on various themes to attend for free.

To top if off, you are situated on the lakes: both Great and small. You are surrounded by more charming towns with sandy beaches and dunes, fun shops, great food, wineries, miniature golf, fudge, and other summery fare. The people of Traverse City are incredibly helpful and kind. Every film I attended (and the theaters are large) was sold out, but if they can cram you in there they will. There is nothing not to like about this festival. And the average daily temperature in northern Michigan is 78. You should consider making the trek next year.What I saw. There were quite a few films I wish I could have seen but since the trip was a last minute decision, many of those films were sold out or not being shown over our two days in Traverse City. Here’s what we saw.

THE INFIDEL (UK, 2009) 105 minutes. THE INFIDEL is a comedy about a London man (Omid Djalili) who suddenly learns he was born to a Jewish family and only later adopted by Muslims. His identity lies entirely with the Muslim population in London so he must “learn” to be a Jew. Now, Solly Shimshillewitz, he takes advice from a neighboring Jewish cabbie played by Richard Schiff. I found this film to be funny, but also at times cringe-worthy. Stereotypical negative depictions of Jews were tossed like grenades whereas Muslim traditions were treated more carefully. Having said that, the audience seemed to be untroubled by it and laughed their way through it.

THE MISCREANTS OF TALIWOOD (Australia/Pakistan) 2008 was documentary about an Australian film-maker in Pakistan. George Gittoes spent two years in a Taliban-controlled area where a cottage film industry was trying to get started. Their goal was not arthouse films but adventurous one. Its success was routinely threatened by the Taliban’s penchant for burning down the video stores and the film themselves. Scenes of their treatment of women and other scapegoats were sickening. This frightening look at the complete repression and mass murders taking place in this area on the Afghanistan border was marred somewhat by Gittoes himself who insisted on playing a role in the film himself. Sometimes a documentary is not served well by the presence of the film maker and that was the case here.

Now these were not films we’d have chosen had we decided to go a few weeks earlier but both were somewhat entertaining and informative. I don’t want to leave you with the idea that every film had a political agenda. The majority did not.

Our final film, IN THE BEGINNING (France, 2009), was a real gem. A con man (Francois Cluzet) stumbles into a bigger score than he expects when a impoverished town mistakes him for an official from a company due to complete a highway in their town. The town is in dire economic circumstances and needs a project like this to provide jobs. Paul is someone whose life has been spent in isolation and his bogus project a real one as he finds companionship with the people he’d hoped to con. This film was based on a true story and it was exciting, touching, and brilliant.

Consider the Traverse City Film Festival next summer. Lodging is affordable, there is plenty to do with kids, and you will find the climate hospital. It beats the Jersey shore hands down.

Patti Abbott writes crime fiction short stories. She hosts a look at Forgotten Books every Friday with readers, writers and reviewers at She hopes you’ll join in.