Traverse City Record-Eagle

August 7, 2012

Film Festival gets its own happy ending

By Bill O'Brien
bobrien@record-eagle.com

TRAVERSE CITY — There's nothing like a happy ending to a good movie. Or a movie festival.

Traverse City Film Festival organizers said this year's edition scored with cinema fans, and it drew rave reviews from the local business community.

"On many levels, this was one of our best festivals," founder and Academy Award winner Michael Moore said. "In terms of content, the slate of films was incredible."

The eighth annual festival that wrapped Sunday showed more movies and hosted more filmmakers than before, Executive Director Deb Lake said. It also attracted the largest number of new volunteers since its inaugural year.

"The paid venues were up by 15 percent, so that's great," Lake said.

Moore said he received plenty of positive feedback during the festival, both from movie-goers and film stars and directors who took part, including actress Susan Sarandon and comedy film director Jay Roach.

"They all marveled at how well-run the festival is, and how nice the town is," Moore said.

Downtown restaurants and retailers reported brisk business during festival week.

"We were really busy," said Misha Neidorfler, owner of Morsels bakery and coffee shop on East Front Street downtown.

She said it's easy to gauge festival foot traffic because it swells in periods just before and after the movie screenings.

"That's when you really see the crowds," she said.

The Park Place Hotel downtown was at capacity during festival weekend, general manager Amy Parker said. Average daily rental rates were up about 15 percent from a year ago.

The historic hotel is popular with movie buffs because of its proximity to various festival venues, she said.

"It makes them feel like they're more a part of it," Parker said. "It feels different when you're in the thick of it rather than on the outside."

Brad Van Dommelen, president of the Traverse City Convention & Visitors Bureau, said hotel room occupancy data from festival week for the Traverse City region won't be available until later this week. But numerous area lodges were at or near capacity, and continued a solid summer tourism season.

"I anticipate the numbers are going to be strong, just like they have been all summer," Van Dommelen said.

Occupancy rates this season are up by an average of 4 to 6 percent a week compared to last season, which also was strong.

"We've been well ahead of last year's numbers since March," Van Dommelen said. "The Film Festival helps create more demand at a very busy time of the year."

Downtown retailers welcomed the festival crowds.

"It was a good week," said Phil Anderson, owner of Diversions apparel and gift shop downtown.

Anderson said the festival generates many first-time visitors to Traverse City, a key to building the region's tourism base.

"I heard that from people a lot; what a cool place Traverse City is," he said. "I'm always for things that drive more people to the area."

Anderson's lone complaint: the festival overlapped with downtown's annual Street Sale this year.

"It shuts off a lot of the local traffic," he said.

Bay Area Transportation Authority's new shuttle service for movie-goers appeared to be a hit. BATA Executive Director Tom Menzel said free shuttles between movie venues carried an estimated 7,300 passengers. That came after nearly 5,000 riders took advantage of BATA's special shuttle service during National Cherry Festival week in July.

"It's really a nice way to add value to what I consider two of the economic drivers of this area," Menzel said. "We've been getting some real good feedback."

Moore said next year's fest will add a new, temporary venue downtown — "a tent theater" with seating for up to 300 — though he declined to discuss specifics. But even after this year's crush, he seemed raring to go for the fest's ninth go-around.

"I was neither exhausted or tired. I was ready to go for a few more days," Moore said. "I enjoy it more and more every year."