The Traverse City Film Festival has long been a popular annual event for locals in Michigan as hundreds of people come out to see the outdoor film screenings of new and upcoming films. As years have passed, the festival has grown in notoriety, attracting high-profile films and filmmakers to the outdoor movies. Locals still loyally frequent the outdoor cinemas of Michigan film festivals, however, and as Michigan film festivals -- including the Waterfront and Traverse City events -- become more established, their stars are rising in the eyes of Hollywood notables, adding an exciting element to the summer festival experience: the chance to mingle and discuss trends with those who write, make or star in the films.
Yes, that probably was Phil Donahue and his wife, Marlo Thomas, you passed on the way to the water park in the Great Wolf Lodge last summer. And that was no Madonna lookalike mugging for cameras on the sidewalk in Traverse City's prime shopping district, arms around her daughter, Lourdes, and buddy Michael Moore.
Or perhaps you were wandering the streets of the lakefront town of Saugatuck and caught a glimpse of Daryl Hannah, Justin Long or Robert Forster.
Star attractions at Michigan outdoor movies
"A lot of times, you get a producer [at the outdoor movie screenings], or actors or actresses, and that is such an incredible gift," said Tricia Noss, of Traverse City, who strategically maps out her hometown vacation week to fit in 20-plus outdoor films, along with between-show picnics or panels with friends.
"Last summer, I saw 'Nimrod Nation,' and I sat next to a bunch of the Nimrods (high school basketball players) in the same row. They were so hilarious, so friendly," she said. "You can't pay to have that experience. It's priceless to get to meet the people who are in the movie."
Outdoor film festival's growing numbers
Last year, more than 50 filmmakers, writers or actors attended the Traverse City Film Festival, co-founded by Oscar-winner Michael Moore, holding question-and-answer sessions before or after their films or speaking on free panels. The outdoor movie screenings, a staple of the Traverse Film Festival, were greeted with actors and filmmakers alike. This year's event is July 28-Aug. 2.
The Waterfront Film Festival in Saugatuck, June 11-14, brings film insiders to discuss the films shown, many of them Midwest or world premieres, said Kori Eldean Rentz, the festival's co-founder.
But that's not all there is to the summer film festival experience in some of Michigan's most scenic communities. FilmThreat.com has named Saugatuck's festival a "top 10 fantastic film festival vacation" for the getaway experience. Likewise, Traverse City's audience is coming increasingly from other parts of the state and country.
"It's a very artistic community, so it really lends itself to that kind of culture and film," Eldean Rentz said. "Everything is within walking distance. You can park your car and spend the whole day walking from venue to venue and enjoying shopping and restaurants in between."
Not to be missed is the Waterfront Fest's annual kick-off, held on June 11 his year. An opening parade features locals and visitors, dressed as their favorite film character or moment. That's followed by an outdoor street festival and opening-night movie under the stars. The Traverse City fest also offers popular outdoor movies, free and shown nightly throughout the festival.
The audience is just as taken with first-time filmmakers as huge movie stars, said Deb Lake, the TC festival's executive director. The biggest buzz surrounded moments such as when Ali Shadman -- a high school student who was given a video camera to record his daily life for the documentary "Baghdad High" -- told an audience how the experience evolved from a way to alleviate boredom to a sense of responsibility for showing what real life in Baghdad is about.
Lake said that's why bigger celebrities love to come.
"Malcolm McDowell was sitting at a sidewalk cafe having lunch, and nobody bothered him," she said. "He thought that was cool."
Source: "Waterfront Film Festival, Traverse City Film Festival bring dose of Hollywood to lakeshore towns" by Kim Schneider -Grand Rapids Press News Service. Read full article at: http://www.mlive.com/travel/index.ssf/2009/05/waterfront_traverse_city_film.html