“The Traverse City Film Festival is committed to showing ‘Just Great Movies’ and helping to save one of America’s few indigenous art forms- the cinema. We are committed to showing great movies that both entertain and enlighten the audience. We need movies that seek to enrich the human spirit and the art of filmmaking, not the bottom line. Our goal is for people to leave the theater with the feeling that they just watched something special.”

– Michael Moore, President and Founder

About the Festival

The Traverse City Film Festival is a charitable, educational, nonprofit organization committed to the idea that “One Great Movie Can Change You: Just Great Movies” and to helping save one of America’s few indigenous art forms — the cinema. The festival brings films and filmmakers from around the world to Northern Michigan for the annual film festival in late July to early August.

The festival also presents classic movies free of charge on a giant, inflatable outdoor screen overlooking Grand Traverse Bay in the Open Space at dusk. Free panel discussions with directors, writers, actors, and other members of the film industry are offered daily. And an affordable film school runs throughout the festival, offering twice daily classes for film students and film lovers.

It was instrumental in renovating a shuttered historic downtown movie house, the State Theatre, which it continues to own and operate as a year-round, community-based, and volunteer-staffed art house movie theater. The festival also renovated the historic Con Foster Museum building in Clinch Park and turned it into a sister screen for the State Theatre, the Bijou by the Bay.

The festival was founded by Academy Award-winning director Michael Moore who makes his home here, runs the festival, and serves as president of the board of directors. Other board members are filmmakers Rod Birleson (producer, “Capitalism: A Love Story”), Larry Charles (director, “Borat”), Terry George (director, “Hotel Rwanda”), Jeff Daniels (actor, “The Newsroom”), Tom Morello (musician, Rage Against the Machine), Christine Lahti (actor, “Running on Empty”), Mark Cousins (director, “The Story of Film: An Odyssey”), Tia Lessin (director, “Trouble the Water”), as well as Traverse City residents photographer John Robert Williams and former Walt Disney Co. marketing executive Penny Milliken.

Board of Directors

Founder and President Michael Moore, winner of an Oscar (“Bowling for Columbine”), an Emmy (“TV Nation”), a Palme d’Or at Cannes (“Fahrenheit 9/11″), and the British Book of the Year award (“Stupid White Men”), was the first 18-year-old elected to public office in Michigan. He operated the art-house film series East Village Cinema in his native Flint, Michigan, for eight years. Moore serves as the board president.

Tia Lessin is an Academy Award-nominated documentary filmmaker  produced and directed “Trouble the Water” (2008), winner of the Sundance Film Festival’s Grand Jury Prize. With a commitment to social advocacy, Lessin has worked in both television and film and is the recipient ofthe L’Oréal Paris/Women in Film’s Women of Worth Vision Award and the Sidney Hillman Prize for Broadcast Journalism. Lessin serves as the board vice president.

Rod Birleson is an educator and documentary filmmaker. He earned a degree in secondary education at Eastern Michigan University in 1970 and taught 27 years in Michigan public schools before retiring from teaching in 1997. He began his filmmaking career by being one of the two key field producers for the groundbreaking film, “Roger & Me.” Rod went on to work as a producer on “SICKO” and “Capitalism: A Love Story.” He has been active on the film festival from the start, acting as a moderator, panel member and volunteer for the Traverse City Film Festival. Birleson serves as the board secretary.

Penny Milliken is a voting member of the Television Academy, Traverse City native, former marketing executive at the Walt Disney Company and currently CEO of HeR Interactive Games, developer and publisher of Nancy Drew digital games and apps. Penny brings both a love of the Grand Traverse Region and an accomplished background in digital media, filmed entertainment, theme parks, and e-commerce to the festival board. Milliken serves as the board treasurer.

Larry Charles, a Brooklyn-born writer, director, and producer, directed the largest grossing comedy of 2006, “Borat,” which had its North American premiere in Traverse City at the second annual film festival. “Borat” was named by the American Film Institute as one of the ten best films of 2007. Charles was also one of the original writers of “Seinfeld,” a director of “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” a writer/producer of HBO’s “Entourage,” and currently writes, produces, and directs for FX’s “The Comedians.”

Mark Cousins, an Irish-born film critic and director, wowed Traverse City audiences in 2012 with “The Story of Film: An Odyssey,” his epic 15-hour look at the history of the movies which just won a Peabody Award. He returned to the festival in 2013 with crowd favorites “The First Movie” and “A Story of Children and Film” and received the festival’s Visionary Award. Around the world, Cousins is hailed as one of today’s leading film intellectuals and auteurs

Michigan-native Jeff Daniels is an Emmy Award-winning (“The Newsroom”) and Golden Globe-nominated actor, musician, writer and director. He founded the non-profit theater company, Purple Rose Theatre Company, in his hometown of Chelsea, Michigan and received the first annual Michigan Filmmaker Award at the TCFF in 2006.

Terry George, born in Belfast, Northern Ireland, was nominated for an Academy Award for co-writing “In the Name of the Father.” His “Hotel Rwanda” received three Oscar nominations. Much of his film work (“The Boxer,” “Some Mother’s Son,” and “In the Name of the Father”) involves Northern Ireland. His storied career as a playwright, screenwriter, director, curator, draftsman, journalist, and magazine researcher has led him to his current place among the upper echelons of dramatic filmmakers.

Christine Lahti is a Michigan-born Emmy Award- and two-time Golden Globe Award-winning actress, and the Academy Award-winning film director of “Lieberman in Love.” She starred in the TCFF fave “Yonkers Joe” and many other films including “Running on Empty,” and is the recipient of the 2007 TCFF Michigan Filmmakers Award. She joined the board in 2008.

Tom Morello is a Grammy Award-winning guitarist noted for his work as a founder and member of the bands Rage Against the Machine, Audioslave, and The Nightwatchman. He is also the co-founder of the non-profit political activist organization, Axis of Justice, bringing together musicians and fans of music to fight for social justice. His music has appeared in a number of films including “The Matrix,” “Iron Man,” and “Zero Dark Thirty.”


Michael Moore, Founder

Doug Stanton, Co-Founder
John Robert Williams, Co-Founder

Giving Back

The Traverse City Film Festival is organized exclusively for charitable educational purposes. The festival strives to further the indigenous American art of cinema by bringing great movies and film education opportunities to Northern Michigan. Each year the festival donates the films shown during the festival to public libraries in the area so that everyone can see the festival’s great movies for free. Inter-library loan programs expand the reach of the DVDs beyond the recipient libraries, and additional area libraries have provided funding for the purchase of sets of DVDs for their patrons. We hope to grow the program whenever funding or private donors allow so that the festival films will be available for free to as many people as possible. You can view a list of the libraries here.

Festivals by the Numbers


Admissions: 120,000
Percent of available tickets sold to 229 screenings: 80%
Number of sold-old movies:142
Number of movies: 115 features, 66 shorts across
Number of venues:10 venues
Industry guests: 110
Volunteers: 1,600
Festival musicians: 125

  • Travel Ban sidebar focusing on films from effected countries with filmmakers in person and via Skype
  • Two New Temporary Venues: Central High School Auditorium and Kirkbride Hall at the Grand Traverse Commons
  • Panels move to new venues and times
  • Free Buzz Movies on the move across locations
  • Kids Fest moves to Clinch Park
  • Mariska Hargitay, Noel Wells, Leonard Maltin, and Gilbert Gottfried added to TCFF Walk of Fame


Admissions: 123,000
Percent of available tickets sold to 255 screenings: 82%
Number of sold-old movies:160
Number of movies:120 features, 107 shorts across
Number of venues:10 venues
Industry guests: 175
Volunteers: 1,500
Festival musicians: 200

  • In a historic move, all Official US Fiction and Documentary Selections were directed by women
  • All movies playing at the Open Space were directed and/or written by women
  • State Theatre Centennial Celebration
  • New Location for The Buzz and The Woz
  • “Where to Invade Next” Worldwide Screening Event
  • Walk of Fame Installed
  • Certified Local Food Event


Admissions: 100,000
Percent of available tickets sold to 255 screenings :81
Number of sold out tickets: 170
Number of movies: 123 features, 121 shorts across
Number of venues: 10
Industry guests: 160
Volunteers: 3,000
Festival musicians: 500

  • Lifetime Achievement Award: Geraldine Chaplin
  • Michigan Filmmaker Award: Roger Corman
  • Visionary Award: Robert Altman
  • State Theatre Centennial Event
  • The Woz Interactive Gallery Added


Admissions: 131,000
Percent of available tickets sold to 250 screenings: 82%
Number sold out: 170
Number of movies: 128 features, 85 shorts across 10
Industry guests: 160
Volunteers: 1,600, Volunteer Managers: 500
Festival musicians: 100

  • Mid-Life Achievement Award: Barbara Kopple
  • Movie Around the World
  • The Buzz and Movies on a Boat added as Venues
  • “Best of” Open Space


Admissions: 119,000
Percent of available tickets sold: 85%
Number of screenings: 188 screenings
Number of screenings that were sold out: 123
Number of movies: 102 features, 52
Number of venues: 10
Industry guests: 150
Volunteers: 1,500, Volunteer Managers: 250
Festival musicians: 80

  • MI Filmmaker Award: Paul Feig
  • Bijou by the Bay added as a Venue
  • “Compliments of the Festival” Free Screenings
  • Closing Night Bash in Open Space
  • Academy-qualifying status for Best Documentary Short winner


Admissions: 91,000
Number of movies: 93 features, 117 shorts from every continent but Antarctica
Industry guests: 167

  • MI Filmmaker Award: Winsor McCay


Admissions: 128,000
Number of screenings: 156
Number of movies: 147 films (88 features and 59 shorts) from every continent but Antarctica
Industry guests: 130

  • Dutmers Theater for experimental film added
  • Renovation of Lars Hockstad Auditorium
  • First year of Kids Fest on the lawn outside Lars Hockstad Auditorium
  • MI Filmmaker Award: Sue Marx


Admissions: 106,000
Number of movies: 80 films and 40 shorts from over 25 countries at 135 screenings
Number of film schools doubled in size: 1
Free panel discussions: 5
Free Outdoor movies: 6
Industry guests: 70

  • MI Filmmaker Award: John Hughes


Admissions: 96,000
Number of movies: 71 films and 50 shorts from over 30 countries at 123 screenings
New Film school: 1
New Kids fest: 1
Free panel discussions and outdoor movies: 5
Film industry guests:65

  • MI Filmmaker Award: Rich Brauer


Admissions: 80,000
Number of films: 71
Number of screenings: 108
Number of student workshops and students shorts: 3
Free panel discussions and outdoor movies: 5
Film industry guests: 50
Number of new 400-seat venues: 1

  • MI Filmmaker Award: Kurt Luedtke


Admissions: 80,000
Length: 6 days
Number of films: 66
Number of screenings: 98
Number of student workshops and short films by student filmmakers: 2
Free panel discussions: 5
Film industry guests: 30
Number of new 900-seats venues: 1

  • MI Filmmaker Award: Chirstine Lahti


Admissions: 70,000
Length: 5 days
Number of films: 67
Number of screenings: 95
Number of student workshops and short films by student filmmakers: 1
Free panel discussions: 6
Film industry guests: 40

  • MI Filmmaker Award: Jeff Daniels


Admissions: 50,000
Length: 5 days
Time planned: 2 months
Number of films: 31
Number of screenings: 52
Free panel discussions: 4
Film industry guests: 10