A City and Its Festival: The Power of People and Place

Opening Night Street Party at TCFF 2013

Opening Night Street Party at TCFF 2013

Good placemaking projects come in many forms. There are some constants, to be sure, like good physical design, community engagement and a willingness by those on-the-ground to rethink the norms.

In Traverse City, MI it means leveraging an historic waterfront and downtown with an emerging creative culture. Now in its ninth year the Traverse City Film Festival (TCFF) is truly a special event. Founded in 2005 by filmmaker Michael Moore, the one-of-kind festival draws filmmakers and theater goers from around the world to the beautiful community along Lake Michigan in the northern part of our state. During the TCFF some amazing films are debuted, audiences are engrossed, the community is engaged and the town is electrified. Much of the credit for the festival rightfully goes to Moore. No matter your view of his politics (can anyone be neutral?) his presence in Traverse City is remarkable and his vision for the festival as a community celebration is prodigious.

I was inspired to write this blog today after reading film maker Arvin Chen’s  (Will You

Outdoor Screening, via TCFF FB page

Outdoor Screening, via TCFF Facebook page

Still Love Me Tomorrow?) blog about his experience at TCFF 2013 last month.  Chen writes of his trip to Traverse City, showing us all the time that it is indeed the place and its people that make a difference. Below are some excerpts from his blog, in which he asks, is the TCFF the “BEST FILM FESTIVAL EVER?”

“The founder is Michael Moore, and at some point over nine years ago, he decided to bring indie films, foreign films, and some pretty hard-core documentaries to this small town in middle America.  But instead of just using Traverse City as the backdrop for the festival, he decided to make it part of the town..really getting the community involved and making it “their” festival as well.  As a result, the festival is run (very effectively) by almost entirely local volunteers.  Only two or three of the staff is full-time and paid.  And they’re way better at their jobs than most festival staff… I don’t think I’ve ever felt as appreciated as a filmmaker or maybe even as a human being…Every single screening is packed (even theaters with 800 seat capacities), and the sound and projection are by far the best that I’ve had so far on this festival/theatrical run… Somehow they managed to have other (much better) filmmakers come and moderate the panels and Q&A’s, so they’re really leading discussions about filmmaking. They put the name of the movie up on the marquee for every screening… The people in Traverse City are so nice they will stop you on the street and compliment you about your movie and thank you earnestly for coming to the festival, so nice that when you’re crossing the street, they’ll roll down their car windows and yell “I loved your movie.”  I played with the festival volunteers in a fucking kickball game!… I’ve definitely already doused myself in the Kool Aid.  I left Traverse City hoping that I would make another movie soon only so I might have another chance to go back to Traverse City.”

Place Matters. People Matter. Art Matters.

For more examples of great placemaking and a “how to” guide for your own community, go here.

For another view (from my esteemed colleague and author extraordinaire Liz Shaw) on TCFF and the film The Human Scale: Building Cities for People, go here.