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Traverse City Film Festival

Who Watches 600 Movies A Year? They Do.

July 28, 2015
Who Watches 600 Movies A Year? They Do.

Two hundred and forty films will be shown at the Traverse City Film Festival, which kicks off today (Tuesday). But how do they all get here? Who finds them? Who decides? And when and how do the actual movies get from Hollywood – or wherever – to Traverse City?

TCFF Executive Director Deb Lake sat down to walk us through the process, pointing out that there are four primary sources for films each year – and noting that she and TCFF Founder Michael Moore are watching a lot of movies every year.

“Most film festivals post a submission period where anyone can submit their films. There’s a form and a fee, and then the festival watches the film and gets back to you with feedback and whether or not it will get into the festival. That’s not how we do it; we are happy to allow submissions at no cost, but we don’t guarantee we’ll watch the film or send feedback unless we send an actual invitation. We’re basically one person with some support, so we watch as many as we can, but between shots and features we were up over 500 this year.”

“Michael and I go to festivals throughout the year. It’s a great way to look for films. It’s good to watch with an audience to get a sense of what a large group of people think. That’s very helpful. When I go to a festival I see probably 60 films, and I go to probably four or five a year. And then I’ll have maybe 15 of those 60 that I think he should watch.”

“We also reach out to people who have films, like the Danish Film Institute or the Norwegian Film Institute. We have a great relationship with these organizations. Many countries have strong film institutes, and they show us the films they have coming out of their country that year. We actually found one of our opening night films that way (Troubled Water in 2009).”

“Of course we get films through Michael’s connections. Some people really want their film to be shown here, like Shaun The Sheep; they reached out to Michael, and he has close relationship with Lionsgate. Of course the timing is also important; their movie is coming out right after the festival.”

“And when I say 600 movies, he or I are actually watching 600 movies a year. He loves film, so he’s watching movies every week, whether he’s in LA, in New York, wherever. He’s watching film constantly and people are sending him films constantly. And of course he’s also a member of the Academy [of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences]. Sometimes he’ll say, ‘Oh, I saw this great little thing in a theatre in Soho.’ Or, ‘here’s a discovery, and nobody’s ever heard of this one!’”

“Once they’ve accepted to bring the film here, our traffic department contacts them and makes sure of the format it will come in. The first year almost all the films were 35mm, but now almost all of them are digital.”

“Eventually the films come in and the inspection/projection team takes over. There are about 15 people involved there; a combination of paid staff and volunteers. So the films come in and they look at them and verify the right formats. You have HD, HD CAM, Dolby, Dolby E, sometimes Blu Ray, all sorts of video and audio options and formats.”

“Every single film has to be tested by the inspection team a week before the festival. We look at every single film on a screen. If it’s foreign, the subtitles have to be embedded, and you have to see it on a particular server and a particular projector to make sure everything works correctly. It’s a big deal. And sometimes you’ll find something like a distributor has sent a film with Italian subtitles by mistake. They are inspecting films all the way through up until the last day of the festival.” 

The above story is an excerpt from a feature in this week's Northern Express.

Posted: Tuesday, July 28, 2015 1:18 PM by Jon Becker


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