Traverse City Record-Eagle


August 1, 2011

Film Festival admissions outdo 2010

Attendees give high marks for quality, variety, volunteers

TRAVERSE CITY — It's official: This year's Traverse City Film Festival was the most successful yet, with an estimated 128,000 admissions — 22,000 more than last year, according to Festival Executive Director Deb Lake.

The figure represents both ticketed and free events, including Open Space movies and Kids Fest events.

The six-day festival wrapped Sunday with traditional closing day highlights, including the Closing Night Film ("Modern Times") at the State Theatre and the Closing Night Party at the Park Place Hotel. The Audience Award for best documentary film went to "Being Elmo;" best fiction film went to "A Better World."

Closing day also was "Suggestion Sunday," during which filmgoers were encouraged to leave their comments in suggestion boxes.

This year's festival got high marks for the quality and variety of its films and for its 1,300 volunteers.

"The volunteers to a person have been friendly, helpful and interested in us," said Janet Callaway, who was attending the festival for the first time with husband, Louis, after winning a festival package at an Ann Arbor fundraising auction.

The festival also got nods for improvements, like the new Kids Fest and the new music stage at Clinch Park, where the couple set up camp chairs under the shade of a tree Sunday and listened to an acoustic duo.

"We saw it advertised in the movies," Janet Callaway said. "We had our chairs in the car and it sounded appealing."

For Debi Burns, who was visiting family in Kalkaska, the biggest improvement was the "cushy seats" at the recently renovated Lars Hockstad Auditorium.

"And the acoustics," said Burns, who saw "Mike's Surprise" there Saturday with sister-in-law Susan Burns.

On the down side, "we missed having shorts before all the movies, and the (Traverse City) Lip Dub wasn't shown at any of the movies we saw," Susan Burns said.

The festival drew more than 200 daily for film discussion panels, including Sunday's "The Comedy Panel," said Brad Will, Film Festival box office manager for the City Opera House.

"This is the first year we've made tickets available before the day of the panel. That has helped people know that they're going to get in," Will said. "We had one woman who was at the door every morning at 7:30 with a book. She's our panel groupie."

More than 100 VIPS attended this year's festival with the help of a grant from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. That was a big draw for Linda Baker, who had a hard time deciding what to see.

"My favorite thing is seeing the director or people in the movies talking about what goes into making them, because I'm a movie fan myself," said Baker, of Farmington Hills.

Baker saw six films during the week and believes the festival is "very well-run." But she said she spent more time in line than she did watching movies and had a hard time finding a meal late at night near festival venues.

"What I don't understand is why the restaurant kitchens along (Front Street) aren't open after 9," she said. "It makes no sense from a business perspective. They need more food options — real food, not popcorn and candy — for people who do go to a lot of movies."

Grand Traverse Pie Co. on Park Street adjusted its hours for the festival, staying open from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. most nights, said owner Mike Busley. He said the festival was like an endurance event for restaurant staff, bringing in a steady stream of customers, from movie-goers to "Elmo" filmmakers.

"It went phenomenal," Busley said. "It's our first year there and we didn't know what to expect. This festival has far surpassed even the (National) Cherry Festival. It's exceeded expectations."

Other suggestions for improving the festival include showing classic "The Twilight Zone" TV episodes, extending the festival to two weeks so there could be more than two screenings of each film, and bringing back favorite and prize-winning films from the festival to the State Theatre during the year.

And don't forget that Lip Dub.

"It's nice to see it on the big screen," said Carl Kucsera, of Traverse City. "It'd be nice if they showed it at the State after the festival."

Holly Cacina camped at the Traverse City State Park with daughter Dominique in order to spend more money at the festival. She had only one recommendation for bettering the event.

"Let's not advertise it any more," said Cacina, of Williamston. "It's getting so big. The secret's out."

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