Ballance said "Barn Red," a 2004 production starring Ernest Borgnine, likely is his favorite Brauer film.
"I liked the story, probably because I grew up around farms," Ballance said. "But I also liked the way it was photographed. I like his ability to capture light and his framing. You can probably trace that back to his background with still photography."
Brauer also was the director of photography for Jeff Daniels' "Escanaba in da Moonlight." Brauer said he saw the play -- twice -- at Daniels' Purple Rose Theatre in Chelsea, then contacted Daniels to push for a movie.
They pair also worked on Daniels' "Super Sucker."
"We've had a lot of adventures together," Brauer said of Daniels.
Brauer said he was "caught off-guard" by the Filmmaker of the Year Award, but heard festival founder Michael Moore "had been thinking about this a long time and now seemed like a good time."
Williams said it helps that Brauer "tells a Michigan story."
Today, Brauer is casting for "Fitful," which he'll film in Manistee in the coming months and plans to release around Christmas. It's the story of "a woman who works for the National Historic Trust and has to spend the night on a dark, creepy ship where she learns something about herself," he said.
It's the first film he's made that takes advantage of tax incentives that Michigan offers filmmakers.
"All of a sudden, everyone is getting how fun this is," Brauer said. "I've been swimming upstream for awhile. We're the remote outpost and people can't believe we're here, but they're getting it now."