TCFF cancels summer film fest, but promises better events ahead
There will not be a Traverse City Film Festival this summer. Or in future summers. At least not the way it was.
TCFF says it's ending its flagship event, but will continue operating and screening films at its two theaters — the State and the Bijou by the Bay while it looks to start a new phase of its existence.
In an email to supporters on Tuesday, founder and president Michael Moore said that after nearly 20 years of the weeklong summer fest, they decided to “close this era.”
In an interview with IPR News, Moore said Traverse City was getting more expensive, and he was concerned about the festival he co-founded becoming inaccessible to people with lower incomes.
He said it cost about $2 million annually to put on the festival, including free outdoor screenings at Traverse City’s Open Space.
Events like that kept the festival accessible to all, but also pushed it into debt over the years, from which it has finally recovered. The film festival broke even in 2022, Moore said.
But in order to stay out of the red, some things need to change, he said. Moore envisions year-round programming featuring the films that would appear during the summer event.
“This is not bad news that we’re releasing today,” Moore said. “This just means we’re not going to do it the old way. We’re not going to do it the old way that had us in debt. We’re not going to do it the old way that prevented people from Flint and Detroit and Downriver from coming to Traverse City and affording to spend a few days to come to the film festival.”
Still, news that the summer festival won’t happen could deal a blow to downtown Traverse City.
Restaurants, for example, benefitted from festival goers who dined out even in the middle the week — a nice boost between weekend crowds. They also spent money on hotel rooms and in local stores.
“You can’t really replace that, per se,” said Trevor Tkach, president and CEO of Traverse City Tourism.
The festival also had become a brand for the region, Tkach said, with its high profile putting Traverse City on the map for people far outside Michigan.
“It’s something very special, very magical,” he said. “It is the physical manifestation of art and culture in our town. It showcases what we love, what we embrace, what we celebrate, and what we enjoy, and so then people across the globe can see how we cherish the arts and how important they are to us.”
Having “that iconic piece disappear from the calendar — it will definitely have an impact on the brand,” Tkach said.
And beyond tourism marketing and retail bottom lines, the festival’s disappearance also tugs at sentiment for the locals and visitors who have come to love the event in its nearly 20 years.
MISSING THE SUMMER FILMS
John Robert Williams helped co-found the Traverse City Film Festival in 2005 with Moore and Doug Stanton. He resigned from the festival board in 2017.
"The social aspect of it I will miss to no end, because there were so many fabulous connections and people that I met along the way here,” Williams said. "The way the town came together as a festival by the people, for the people, and the fact that others showed up was fantastic. It was a grand experiment."
Moore says the experiment is just entering a new phase.
He said the organization’s top priority is maintaining the State and Bijou by the Bay theaters for year-round screenings and events like always.
TCFF faced scrutiny from Traverse City officials earlier this year for not having the Bijou open enough during 2022 — 121 days out of the 200 required by a contract with the city, according to stories in the Ticker and the Record-Eagle.
But Moore says he’s also looking forward to what he and the TCFF board are working on right now.
“I can’t really get too specific about what we’re planning,” Moore said, “but I think when people hear what we end up doing in the coming year or two with the Traverse City Film Festival, they’re going to go ‘Oh my god, this is a much better idea.’ ”
IPR's Dan Wanschura contributed to this report.