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Traverse City Film Fest celebrates Michigan, much more

Patrick Dunn
Special to The Detroit News

From animator Winsor McCay to teen-movie titan John Hughes to “The Godfather” director Francis Ford Coppola, Michigan has birthed some of the most legendary names in cinema. Michael Moore, the Traverse City Film Festival president and founder, says it’s time the state’s cinematic legacy was properly recognized.

“When I started the festival, I really wanted to acknowledge it,” says Moore, well-known for directing documentaries like “Roger and Me” and “Bowling For Columbine.” “I want the people of Michigan and young people to know. Look who’s come from Michigan and look who’s made a contribution to this art form. It is significant.”

Mitten State talent will be spotlighted in various ways at the 2015 Traverse City Film Festival, which runs Tuesday through Aug. 2 at several indoor and outdoor venues in Traverse City. One of this year’s guests of honor will be Detroit-born B-movie legend Roger Corman, an independent film producer, director and actor who mentored young film directors such as Coppola and Ron Howard and helped launch the careers of actors Peter Fonda and Jack Nicholson.

Moore, who will host a discussion with Corman at the City Opera House on Aug. 2, marvels at the number of great directors who got their start thanks in part to Corman’s mentorship.

“We got ‘Avatar’ and ‘Titanic’ because Corman sees that this kid (James Cameron) had something going,” Moore says. “He doesn’t have the degree, doesn’t have the pedigree, doesn’t have the resume, but Corman was just a crazy genius about knowing intuitively whether this kid — Martin Scorsese, Jonathan Demme, James Cameron — could make a movie. We don’t have a lot of people like that anymore in the business that would make that happen.”

The festival also will kick off a yearlong centennial celebration for a Michigan cinema institution — the State Theatre, which Moore describes as Traverse City’s “landmark movie palace.” On Wednesday, Charlie Chaplin’s daughter, Geraldine Chaplin, will introduce a screening of her father’s silent-film classic “The Tramp,” which also marks its 100th birthday this year.

“To have the Chaplin family represented in Traverse City in the centennial year of the theater that showed his film 100 years ago is a very cool thing,” Moore says.

The festival’s film lineup also includes some intriguing depictions of life in Michigan. The documentary “T-Rex” tells the story of Flint native and Olympic boxing champion Claressa Shields, who will be present for screenings on July 31 and Aug. 1.

Another documentary, “20 Years of Madness,” follows a group of Metro Detroiters who come together for a reunion episode of “30 Minutes of Madness,” the sketch comedy show they created for public access TV when they were all Rochester High School students in the ’90s. The film will screen July 30 and Aug. 2.

“It just captures southeastern Michigan in such a cool way,” Moore says.

Although the festival features many films with a Michigan connection, they still represent just a small portion of the festival’s hefty 150-film lineup. Although Moore enthusiastically promotes Michigan film, he emphasizes that the festival’s Michigan movies will screen alongside films from around the world that met his simple qualification for inclusion in the event.

“I only show what I think are great movies,” he says. “That’s the bar you have to reach. You don’t get special dispensation just because you can pronounce ‘Gratiot.’ ”

Patrick Dunn is an Ann Arbor-based freelance writer.

Traverse City Film Festival

Tuesday-Aug. 2

Various venues, Traverse City

Tickets: Individual screenings, $1-$12; special events, $15-$100

(231) 392-1134

traversecityfilmfest.org