Traverse City Film Festival 2006

Day 1

The Traverse City Film Festival started today when Michael Moore and Michigan’s Governor Granholm presented Jeff Daniels with the Michigan Filmmaker award. This is the second year of the film festival and it is already considered the second largest in the US behind Sundance in Park City, Utah.

I posted a video of the intro ceremony on Yugfilm, so check it out. The quality is a bit lacking because I used my cell phone, but the audio is decent.

I’ll be attending eleven movies over the next five days and will post film fest updates throughout the week.

It’s great to be back in Traverse City!

Panel 1

The panelists were Terry George (Hotel Rwanda writer / director),Jeff Daniels (actor), Malcolm McDowell (actor), Ari Emmanuel (agent), and Michael Moore (director, TCFF founder).

The panel seemed to focus on a couple points:

How marketing and distribution are ruining movies today.

They specifically noted that marketing is driving up the cost of filmmaking, so even if you do a low budget film like The Squid and the Whale, it costs millions to get the word out. I think they were making the point that a lot of good films are forgotten about or overlooked because marketing for big shitty films like MI:III or Miami Vice drowns them out.

The dearth of art house theaters and independent filmmaking in Michigan and across the country.

Michael Moore noted that the only viable art house theater district in Michigan is in Ann Arbor, MI and said that this is a problem throughout the US. It takes a unique community to support the idealistic movies and to appreciate the fine art of filmmaking. Traverse City has not completely bought into the film fest. Places like Sundance and the TIFF have been around since the 1970s and have moved away from their idealistic roots to marketing stops for Oscar contenders and corporate sponsors.

Getting back to the art house theaters, they are unique and so are their audiences. And only so often do their locations align. Movies offer an escape from our daily lives, and while the best stories may be the independent films shown in art house theaters, those stories more often highlight society’s troubles instead of offering an escape.

I have audio that I will post in the future if it is of decent quality. Listening to the panel is very stimulating. Kinda made me want to start writing, filming, and creating. I’ll post more as my thoughts come back to me.

Day 2

Cache – I saw this film at the Old Town Playhouse. It has no beginning and no end, but a compelling middle that will keep you thinking beyond the credits. The movie hinted at much more than it revealed, which seems fitting considering its title, when translated from French to English, is “hidden.”

Joyeux Noel is an amazing film that carries a message that is as relevant to our daily lives as it was to its characters’ lives. The imagery is beautiful and despite the difficult subject matter of war, there are beautiful and humorous moments throughout. This film leaves you with something more than a good talking piece. It prompts you to examine your own views of war and similarities of the humans that fight them.

I only wonder if you reset Joyeux Noel in Iraq or Afghanistan, would it be possible to bring the various sides together for caroling and mass. What is the commonality between today’s warriors?

Day 3

Wordplay – Humorous documentary about the annual crossword puzzle championship and its founder, Will Shortz. They highlight the top competitors of recent years and lead up to the 2005 championship event. Highlights are John Stewart, Bill Clinton, and the woman sitting next to me who actually seemed to know who the crossword puzzle makers were as she commented on their styles and puzzle tendencies. Odd Interesting.

Winter Passing – This movie is my new Garden State. It’s not quite as sharp, but it has that low key artsy feel that often accompanies these “types” of movies – disenchanted youth looking for answers while doing their best to avoid any behavior that may be even slightly associated with the middle of the road. The character development is rushed and the father, played by Ed Harris, comes off as a younger man playing an older man. But Zooey Deschanel’s eyes and Will Ferrell’s humorous character make the movie. Definitely worth renting and watching.

Day 4

I only saw one movie today, but it was the best I’ve seen so far.Little Miss Sunshine is about a young girl’s quest to compete as a beauty queen. The story follows her family, a bunch of misfits no more bizarre than those we live with, on their road trip to southern California for the competition.

This film won Sundance. This film is funny. This film is worth $9.50.

Go see it.

Day 5

Borat – Hilarious. It hasn’t even been premiered at a film festival yet – officially that is. The TC Film Fest screenings are like top secret undercover viewings to test the audience’s reaction to the middle part of the movie that has … well, it involves naked men and mortgages … that’s all I will say. The audience was all ages and everyone was laughing. Even if they were revolted, they laughed. They laughed hard.

Larry Charles introduced the movie. He’s one of the masterminds behind Seinfeld, Curb Your Enthusiasm, Entourage, and many other smashingly funny shows. He wasn’t allowed to take questions afterwards because he had to wait until the TIFF, but I’m seeing him in a panel tomorrow morning.

The first movie I saw was I Want Someone to Eat Cheese With, written by and starring Jeff Garlin (of Curb Your Enthusiasm, among other things). This movie was described as an “adult” comedy. They meant mature by adult, not riske (accent on the e). It was moderately funny, but nothing like Little Miss Sunshine or Borat.

Day 6

Another great day of indie movie entertainment. I attended the panel this morning that centered on comedy in film and television, though really it was Jeff Garlin being very funny most of the time. This was OK because whenever Jeff stopped talking, Malcolm McDowell would start talking about his experience with sodomy and anal fisting in films.

Note to self – never sit in the same room as my parents when someone is making jokes about anal fisting. In fact, never sit in the same room with anyone whenever anal fisting is mentioned.

But honestly, the panel was Jeff Garlin, Malcolm McDowell, Larry Charles, Sabina Guzzanti, and Jake Kasdan. Michael Moore hosted. I took video with my camera phone until this very kind lady said that I had to stop immediately, instructions which I complied with for nearly 30 seconds before filming again. These will all be cycled through Yugfilm in the next few days. I’ll try to get a gallery up with all of the clips together.

I saw two movies today: Toll Free, which I walked out of after thirty minutes, and The TV Set, which was clever and humorous. Jake Kasdan wrote and directed The TV Set, which was based on his experience pitching and directing pilots. He worked on Freaks and Geeks for its entire run. This guy is interesting… (oh, and hisfather has an impressive resume as well).

Air Guitar Nation played at one of the other venues and after the movie was a local air guitar contest, which was kicked off by the reigning world air guitar champion, David “C-Diddy” Jung.

Cell Phones vs. Online Media

Cell phones and online media are two markets just waiting to be exploited. No one seems to be doing either exactly right at the moment, but I’m sure that within the next five years we’ll notice significant shifts in both technologies.

Cell phones, at least that’s what we call them today, will continue merge with mp3 players, PDAs, and ultimately laptops to become mighty fine do-it-all machines of wonder. Coverage will expand as WiFi and phone networks blend together to provide a continuous web of access. Much of the advancement hinges on the speed of the networks and the innovation of available products. We’re going to have to do better than simply miniaturizing websites for cell phones.

Online media in a more traditional harnessed sense. YouTube does a good job of organizing millions of videos, but there is no attempt to do much with even their best content beyond letting users watch it. I would like to see programming developed around the top contributors, whether that means bringing them in house to produce shows or paying them for what they do. It’s like there is an open audition being held on the internet and lots of people are patting each other on the back, but no one wants to take it a step further. Come on YouTube, MySpace, whoever else – you could be the next NBC, CBS, ABC – except in a way that isn’t lame.

Writing Notes

Tell me a story about perspective…

Lost Boy

He had set out on his own for a year, as a self imposed right of passage.

He’s sitting at a cafe with a stranger girl talking about his take on the world.

He’s feeling relatively lost and uninspired.

She’s smiling at him telling him he’s lucky to know that feeling. But, that he’s probably headed in the wrong direction. We get the sense that the girl has been there before.

“That’s sweet, you’re a lost boy,” she said.


“You’re not the first I’ve talked to. The first guy looking to find inspiration by driving west.”

Law School Buzz

The buzz has started and I’m getting excited about starting law school. Meeting new people and settling into an unfamiliar location always provide unique moments. I’m also a bit apprehensive about picking up textbooks (casebooks?) and writing essays (briefs?) again after two years of “mental relaxation.” It’s easy for a curious mind to enjoy learning new facts and methods, but it’s very different to enjoy the routine practice of them. I will remain of the mindset that studying will be a rewarding pursuit until I am proven otherwise.

The timing is ideal because as I near the end of my two year hiatus, I feel less invested in what I’m doing than ever. It is a frustrating place to be – a transitional place that leaves too much time for unstructured thinking. There is a constant sense that I should be doing or producing more. I am looking forward to some fresh challenges and new adventures to enrich my thoughts and creativity.

As I wrap up my life in Virginia, I will not forget all that I have experienced and learned while here. My mind has been opened to the possibility of imagination and an entrepreneurial seed has been planted. I hope one day to bring my interests in technology, writing, and people together. I need to learn more and find more humor in daily life before I can lead a project, but when the time comes I will not be afraid of trying to succeed.

Writing Notes

I’ve had writer’s block for two days now, and I hate it. I even wrote a neat little simile about writer’s block last night that involved tea-kwon-do and using your attacker’s strength to your advantage. But, as you can imagine it was a horrible attempt at paralleling martial arts with my approach to writing.

I’ve been bothered a lot by the fact that I’ve never really written fiction. In most of my stories the physical details are fictional, but the emotional core is something very real. I’m between thinking this is how you write good fiction and this is how you write bad non-fiction. I want the writing to be authentic and I want to be able to relate to it, and I have nothing wrong with bringing in my own experiences. There’s no better way to write a compelling story with believable details. But, I’m having difficulty distancing myself from my characters and often, they come off as idealistic figures of loneliness or loss or whatever my emotion of the day is. They aren’t flawed and they have no humor. They are one dimensional and because of this, I get stuck at one page of writing.

My goal for the coming week is to write two 1500 word stories that involve three central characters in crowded settings. This is partially in response to Hemingway’s “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place,” which is one of the best short stories I’ve ever read. It is simply told, but leaves you with much to think about.