I’ve been busy poring over the schedule for the Traverse City Film Festival 2011, which takes place July 26 – 31, and stood in line for my tickets today. I love that every year, the film festival folks raise the bar just a little bit higher.
For instance, this year, they’ve added a drive-in movie (‘The Blob’!) at Turtle Creek Casino on Monday night. They’ve also added a small venue for experimental films: the 35-seat Dutmers Theater adjacent to Milliken Auditorium.
And, as with previous years, there are awesome midnight flicks (zombies! trolls!), as well as free films on a bigger-than-ever inflatable screen at the Open Space every night. It doesn’t get much better than watching a classic movie under the stars. Those free films include:
- Tuesday: ‘Star Wars: Episode VI – The Empire Strikes Back’
- Wednesday: ‘Mr. Deeds Goes to Town’
- Thursday: ‘Mrs. Doubtfire’
- Friday: ‘The Dark Knight’
- Saturday: ‘Tangled’
As for the rest of the schedule, it’s always REALLY tough to choose because 1) I want to see every single movie; and 2) I always overestimate my energy levels. Why, sure! I can see five movies every day, no problem! And then by about the third day, I start wondering why I didn’t schedule a break in there somewhere.
But, as of this moment, here are the films I’ll be seeing:
‘Made in Dagenham‘ (Directed by Nigel Cole, UK, 2010). This is the opening night film, so I’d go no matter what it is, because it’s an awesome way to get the festival party started. A friend told me today, “That’s on Netflix!” But there’s nothing like seeing a great film on the big screen. It follows a group of women at the Dagenham Ford Motor plant who are reclassified as unskilled laborers and discover they’re paid only a fraction of what their male counterparts earn. So they stand up to corporate bosses, an unsupportive community, and eventually the national government. You go, girls! Bonus points that the real women of Dagenham will actually be at the screening. Sweet!
‘Even the Rain‘ (Iciar Bollain, Spain, France, Mexico, 2010). When a penny-pinching film producer plans to stage a new production near the city of Cochabamba, Bolivia, as a stand-in for a Caribbean isle, he believes the residents will work as cheap extras. But he arrives just as the townsfolk are primed for an uprising against the privatization of clean water. At the screening will be Marcela Olivera from Cochabamba.
‘Trophy Wife‘ (Francois Ozon, French, 2010). It’s been way too long since I’ve seen Gerard Depardieu in anything, and he stars alongside Catherine Deneuve in this French farce. She plays Suzanne, the middle-aged wife of an umbrella factory manager, and she’s always been considered a potiche: a silent symbol of her husband’s prestige. But when he’s taken hostage by his workers, Suzanne steps in to run the family business — and she’s really good at it. Whatever happened to Women’s Lib anyway? Have we really come all that far since the 1970s?
‘Being Elmo: A Puppeteer’s Journey‘ (Constance Marks, USA, 2011). ‘The Muppets’ movie is coming out Nov. 23, 2011, and this is a great way to prime ourselves. The film introduces us to Kevin Clash, the creative genius behind that little red guy Elmo. He’ll also be at the screening, along with director Constance Marks. I imagine Elmo himself might make an appearance, as well.
‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ (Robert Mulligan, USA, 1962). It’s the 50th anniversary of this classic film, and I saw it for the first time earlier this year at a special screening at the State Theatre. But this is even better, because Mary Badham, who portrayed Scout in the film, will be joining us in person! I can’t tell you how excited I am about that. Gregory Peck won an Academy Award for his portrayal of Atticus Finch, a lawyer and widowed father who defends a black man wrongfully accused of a terrible crime. I’ll try and get close enough to get some good pics of Mary.
‘All Good Things‘ (Andrew Jarecki, USA, 2010). I was a little hesitant about seeing this, because I tend to get overly emotional about true crime stories (although I’ve been immersed in the Casey Anthony trial) — but this looks too good to pass up. Inspired by the notorious Kathleen McCormack missing persons case, the chilling mystery follows the story of David (Ryan Gosling), the young heir to a powerful New York family’s real estate fortune, and the still-unsolved disappearance of his beautiful young wife (Kirsten Dunst). Director Andrew Jarecki was the producer of last year’s runaway hit ‘Catfish.’
‘Troll Hunter‘ (Andre Ovridel, 2010). My 16-year-old son and I try to work in at least one midnight movie during each festival. Our favorite so far has been ‘Dead Snow,’ but this one might be a worthy contender. It takes place in the Norwegian countryside where a series of unexplained bear poaching incidents lead a trio of plucky film students to the mysterious hunter Hans: the one man charged with keeping the country’s troll population in check. Yes, troll population. We have high hopes for this movie.
‘Project Nim‘ (James Marsh, UK, 2011). With ‘Rise of the Planet of the Apes‘ coming out in a few weeks, this documentary sounds like the real deal. It takes place in 1973, when Columbia University psychology professor Herb Terrace sets out to prove that if a chimp were raised like a human child, it could be taught to communicate via sign language. Thus begins Nim Chimpsky’s journey from academic curiosity to media star to tragic end. As in ‘Apes,’ the scientists gradually realize they’re in way over their heads.
Shorts for Adults. I love shorts, and they usually offer some of the best filmmaking around. These eight award-winning filmmakers deliver top-notch films like ‘Time Freak,’ where a neurotic inventor creates a time machine only to get lost traveling around yesterday. In ‘Noreen,’ a pair of bumbling Irish cops get in over their heads after they find themselves at a murder scene. ‘Pioneer’ finds a father telling his son the most epic bedtime story ever, and in ‘Extraordinary Feats of the Seventh Period, a schoolboy overcomes an obstacle course and a bullying gym teacher. Can’t wait to see that! Here’s the rundown:
- ‘Everyone Says I Love You’ (Cecile Ducrocq)
- ‘Extraordinary Feats of the Seventh Period’ (Williams Bridges, 2011)
- ‘The Gold Mine’ (Jacques Bonnavent, 2010)
- ‘The Mirror’ (Ramon & Pedro, 2010)
- ‘Noreen’ (Domhnall Gleeson, 2010)
- ‘Pioneer’ (David Lowery, 2011)
- ‘Switch’ (Thomas Hefferon, 2011)
- ‘Time Freak’ (Andrew Bowler, 2010)
‘Where Soldiers Come From‘ (Heather Courtney, USA, 2011). Films made in Michigan are close to my heart, and this one follows a group of childhood friends from the tiny town of Hancock in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. The film follows the boys as they sign up for the National Guard, head to boot camp, and return home from Afghanistan. Both the director and the soldiers will be at the screening, and I’m harking back a little to ‘Nimrod Nation,’ Brett Morgen’s documentary about an Upper Peninsula basketball team. One of my favorite films from 2007.
‘Rid of Me‘ (James Westby, USA, 2011). This movie is making the buzz-o-meter on the film festival site go crazy, and it sounds quirky and fun. Katie O’Grady plays Meris, a woman who moves to a picturesque neighborhood in Portland, Oregon, with her hunky new husband Mitch. But her hopes for a life of domestic bliss don’t pan out, because Mitch’s old friends reject Meris and set out to rekindle the flame between Mitch and his high school sweetheart. Meanwhile, Meris finds a job at a local candy shop and connects with a group of fellow misfits.
‘Battle for Brooklyn‘ (Michael Galinsky, Suki Hawley, USA, 2010). I always love documentaries where a group of people take on “the man.” In this one, a historic Brooklyn neighborhood is being torn down to make way for a development that includes a new basketball arena, future home of the New Jersey Nets. The developer, Forest City Ratner Companies, with prominent politicians by its side, promises the project will bring in jobs and low-cost housing, but longtime residents are being forced out of their homes. An eight-year grassroots resistance effort ensues. Geez, I really hope the residents won.
‘You’ve Been Trumped‘ (Anthony Baxter, UK, 2011). I confess, I’m a little addicted to anything having to do with Donald Trump. I have no idea why, because he’s such a blowhard. This documentary follows his attempts to build a luxurious golf course and resort on a seaside wilderness preserve in Scotland. Things don’t go smoothly, because the locals rise up to fight the development. You have to think he must come up against a lot of that in his business dealings. Director Anthony Baxter will be at the screening, so it’ll be fun to hear his personal accounts.
‘Conan O’Brien Can’t Stop‘ (Rodman Flender, USA, 2011). After being prematurely booted from ‘The Tonight Show,’ the red-headed comedian went on a 32-city ‘Legally Prohibited from Being Funny on Television’ tour. Filmmaker Rodman Flender followed along for the ride, candidly showing the master improviser at the top of his game, both on and off stage. My buddy Danny Gallagher scored a ticket to one of these shows and said it was a blast. I can just imagine, because my son and I love watching Conan every night. Director Rodman Flender will be at the screening.
‘The Guard‘ (John Michael McDonagh, Ireland, 2011). Brendan Gleeson stars as Gerry Boyle, an unorthodox Galway cop who plays by his own rules while patrolling his idyllic coastal village. But his world gets shook up when uptight FBI agent Wendell Everett (Don Cheadle) flies in to investigate an international drug ring. Part odd couple and part buddy cop flick, it sounds like fun.
Mike’s Surprise. Oh what WILL it be? Every year, festival founder Michael Moore gives us a surprise, and no one knows what it is til we get to the theater. The synopsis suggests that it might be 1) a sneak preview of a big Hollywood movie; 2) a buried treasure that the public hasn’t seen in years; 3) a home movie; or 4) ????
‘The Swell Season‘ (Nick August-Perna, Chris Dapkins, Carlo Mirabella-Davis, USA, 2011). ‘Once’ ranks among my all-time favorite indie movies. This film follows folk rockers Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova on their rise to fame after ‘Once,’ which took home the Best Original Song Oscar for ‘Falling Slowly’ (my daughter and I found the sheet music and learned it). The black-and-white documentary follows their two-year tour, tracking the band both onstage and off. Director Nick August-Perna will be at the screening.
‘Largo Winch‘ (Jerome Salle, Belgium, France, 2008). I love a good crime thriller, and this one stars Tomer Sisley as Largo Winch, the secret son of billionaire mogul Nerio Winch and the sole person in line to inherit his fortune. After Nerio drowns under mysterious circumstances, Largo emerges from obscurity to take the reins of his father’s business and find out who killed him. Also stars Kristin Scott Thomas. The sequel, 2011’s ‘The Burma Conspiracy,’ begins three weeks after this movie and stars Sisley and Sharon Stone. I can see I’ll have to track down that movie after I see this one. It’s Bond meets Bourne.
‘Face to Face‘ (Michael Rymer, Australia, 2011). Adapted from Aussie David Williamson’s play of the same name, this indie drama joins a group of ten people in a “community conference” — Australia’s answer to conflict resolution — to determine the fate of Wayne, a violent youth who smashed his boss’ car in a fit of anger after being laid off. Yeah, who hasn’t been there, right? But the group can’t agree on how to handle his case as each becomes increasingly complicit in the crime. It’s ’12 Angry Men’ in the modern world.
‘In a Better World‘ (Susanne Bier, Denmark, Sweden, 2010). This drama, which won the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film, follows the life of Anton, an affluent Swedish doctor at an African refugee camp. The story reveals two very different lives and explores issues of divorce, bullying, death, revenge and friendship. Honestly, this is the type of film that’ll probably leave me feeling unsettled, but I’m compelled to see it because it won an Oscar. I may still bug out and instead see ‘Brothers on the Line,’ about three brothers who fought for the little guys and helped establish the United Auto Workers.
‘Modern Times’ (Charles Chaplin, USA, 1936). It’s the 75th anniversary of this classic, and the perfect way to close the festival. The Little Tramp struggles to live in a modern industrial society with the help of a young homeless woman, played by Paulette Goddard. What a sweet film to see on the big screen, and the closing film is always a fun place to be anyway.
‘The Women on the Sixth Floor’ (Philippe Le Guay, France, 2010). This will be my last film of this year’s festival, so there’s a slight possibility I might be too burned out after the closing film. But I hope not, because it sounds like a great send-off until next year’s festival. Stodgy Parisian stockbroker Jean-Louis Joubert is trapped in a boring bourgeois existence and an unhappy marriage. But he discovers new energy after meeting a lively group of Spanish maids who’ve moved into the sixth floor servants’ quarters of his building. Everybody needs a new outlook on life sometimes, right?
Have you seen any of these movies? Attending the Traverse City Film Festival? If so, give me a shout! And check out the full schedule here.