The 8th Annual Traverse City Film Festival is well underway, and it’s shaping up to the best film fest yet! As always, the crowds are polite and friendly, the films are superb, and it’s been fun meeting new people and seeing old friends. I’ve even met some old friends from Twitter and Facebook that I’ve never met in person before. Fun!
Susan Sarandon flew in from New York with her dog Penny (@mspennypuppy on Twitter), and yesterday I caught a Q&A session with her and Michael Moore, and she also answered questions following Thelma & Louise and her new film, Robot and Frank. Awesome. I’ll write more about all of this coming up, but it’s such a thrill to have her at the film festival.
I caught a few films before the fest officially started – screenings for volunteers, Friends, and sponsors that are some of the best movies I’ve seen this year. I’ll write more about these films later, but here’s a quick rundown of these and a few others:
The Intouchables. Words can’t describe the magic of this French film, other than to say it’s about a wealthy paralyzed older guy in Paris and a younger black guy from a poor family. Though very different, they connect in a way that helps them both. It’s based on a true story, and the real-life people are shown over the end credits. Always love that.
Burn: One Year on the Front Lines of the Battle to Save Detroit: A documentary about the Detroit fire department and how they’re trying to survive amidst budget cuts, failing equipment, fewer firefighters, and way, WAY more fires since Detroit’s decline. The filmmakers and some of the firefighters were there and answered questions about this heartbreaking, but hopeful film. The filmmakers are still in fundraising mode, so hop over to their site and donate!
The Queen of Versailles: A documentary that follows a billionaire couple from riches to rags. Dave Siegel was the CEO of Westgate Resorts, which as I understand it was basically a time-share business that borrowed against new sales to fund new developments, the latest being in Las Vegas. His wife, Jackie, is by all accounts a trophy wife, but as the film goes on, you get the feeling she really is a compassionate and caring person who’s just caught up in the extreme excess of their lives. They started building a 90,000 sq ft home in Florida modeled after Versailles (more here), but during the past few years, the economic crisis brought his business and their lavish lifestyle to a screeching halt.
Don’t Stop Believin’: Everyman’s Journey: A documentary about the band Journey and how they picked a young Filipino guy off YouTube to be their new lead singer. Arnel Pineda had a rough life up to that point, and this amazing film that shows how good things do actually come to the talented and hopeful hard workers among us.
Searching for Sugar Man: A documentary about a singer named Rodriguez who lived and performed in Detroit around 1970. Everyone (record producers, etc.) thought he’d be the next Bob Dylan, but nobody bought his albums, and he disappeared into obscurity until a bootleg album showed up in South Africa and the people went nuts for him there.
There was an unsubstantiated rumor that he’d killed himself on stage in 1971, which wasn’t true, and turns out he’s been living in Detroit all these years, working as a construction worker and raising three daughters. After someone tracks him down, he ends up going to South Africa in the late 1990’s and doing a concert where again, the people just went nuts for him – like Elvis coming back from the dead. Now he’s touring again, and it sounds like a record deal is in the works. I wondered during the film if we’d get a surprise afterwards, and sure enough, Rodriguez was actually there and answered questions. Best opening night film ever.