Like Short Films? The Traverse City Shorts Festival Debuts This Week!

Tall ships at the Open Space during this weekend's Michigan Schooner Festival
Tall ships at the Open Space during this weekend’s Michigan Schooner Festival

By MIKE NORTON

Now THAT was more like it! What an amazing weekend!

Great weather, a gallant fleet of tall ships cruising on the Bay, NHL hockey hopefuls playing their hearts out up at Centre ICE, splendid food at the Epicurean Classic and classic cars on parade all over town. And with all that, I still got to spend a day sailing and snorkeling back home in Old Mission. September is living up to its nickname as our “second summer” this year!

And this coming week? An event that’s close to my heart – and one I’ve been awaiting for months: the first-ever Traverse City Shorts Festival.

No, it’s not a festival about short pants. It’s not even a celebration of the fine microbrews made by Shorts Brewing in Bellaire. It’s all about short films – the kind of small films that helped directors like Martin Scorsese, Steven Spielberg, Danny Boyle and Quentin Tarantino get their careers going. This Saturday and Sunday (Sept. 17 and 18) at the Park Place Hotel, festival organizers will be screening 38 short films from all around the world (including some from local filmmakers) for Traverse City movie fans.

I’ve known about this effort for quite a while, because the festival organizers, Dan and Laura Martone, are friends of mine. Laura is a freelance travel writer who has written the Moon Guide for Michigan and authored a fine piece about Traverse City this summer in National Geographic Traveler. Dan is a filmmaker and promoter who grew up in Michigan, and they spend almost half their time in northern Michigan (they have a place near Gaylord) when they’re not in Laura’s hometown of New Orleans or in Los Angeles, where they started their first film festival – the Beverly Hill Shorts Festival – seven years ago.

Two years later, in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, they decided to do something similar for New Orleans. That was the start of the Big Easy Shorts Festival – now known as the Big Easy International Film & Music Festival. Last year they started thinking about bringing the idea to Traverse City, figuring that local audiences have been educated to appreciate small independent films thanks to efforts like those of the Traverse City Film Festival. But they didn’t want to imitate the Film Festival, simply to act as a sort of complementary event.

“First, we wanted to encourage filmmakers from around the country to check out Michigan, and especially Traverse City, as possible production sites for future films,” said Dan. “By taking submissions from around the country, we hope to be able to introduce 30 to 50 filmmakers to our amazing state. Second, we wanted to be able to show audiences in Traverse City that independent cinema doesn’t only mean films that have been selected by other festivals, or films that fit into some political ideology. We wanted to show Traverse City the amazing films that true indie filmmakers create… they are in for a treat!”

I won’t go into the political and legal roadblocks that he and Laura had to overcome – but they finally succeeded, and I think it’s really going to be worth it. The films they’ll be screening include dramatic works like “Jay” — the story of a pregnant teenage girl who must decide whether or not to break with her biological but abusive family in order to build a new life — and comedies like “Take My Wife”, where a married couple tries to hire a gigolo to save their stale sex life but mistakenly hire a hit man instead.

The films are helpfully arranged into multi-part programs: dramas, comedies, “dramadies,” thrillers, horror comedies, documentaries, and animated shorts. And there’s a free Sunday seminar on “How to make a short film and get it into festivals.”

The price is a bargain, too. A $30 pass lets you watch all the movies over two days – that’s less than a buck per film, a much better price than the $8-per-program ticket you’d otherwise pay. And the whole thing starts Friday night with a special 8 p.m. opening party at Right Brain Brewery, at 221 Garland St. in the Warehouse District. Want more details, and a list of the films? Check out their website at www.traversecityshortsfestival.com

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About mikelovestc

These days, I’m the media relations guy for the Traverse City Convention & Visitors Bureau, but before that I spent 25 years as a reporter and columnist at the Traverse City Record-Eagle, a job that frequently took me out into the most remote backroads, forests, beaches and islands of the beautiful Grand Traverse Region. My strategy was pretty simple — just drive, paddle, ski or walk until you’re certain you’re lost, and then find somebody to talk to. It was a great job! I never intended to live in Traverse City. I grew up in Grand Rapids, spent four years in the Coast Guard in places like Miami Beach, Monterey and San Francisco, and when I finally graduated from college I took a summer job at the Miami Herald. To my surprise, I discovered I didn’t like the tropics nearly as much as I thought I would — and when the Record-Eagle offered me a job I took it, figuring I’d put in a year or two and head off to someplace like Seattle or Portland. What I discovered very quickly is that this place gets to you in a variety of unexpected ways. The beaches here are as lovely as anyplace else I’ve ever been, the weather is mild all year round — warm enough for swimming in September and cold enough for skiing in December — and just about the time you’re getting tired of one season you get another one every bit as pleasant. The people are laid-back and friendly, the music and arts scene is awesome, and the place still hasn’t gotten so sophisticated that a guy like me feels out of place.
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