As the sounds of an all brass, polka-style band called the Archipelago Project rocked out a spirited version of Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody,” filmmaker Michael Moore and friends took to the stage in front of the State Theatre on Front Street to kick off the 4th Annual Traverse City Film Festival in style.

Addressing a crowd of nearly 100 people who had gathered in the street, Moore touched on what would make this year’s festival stand out, chiefly: A rare screening of Buster Keaton’s silent classic The General, and twice as many comedy movies as there had been in prior TC Film Festivals. Not one to avoid getting his political shots in, Moore said he upped the comedy quotient this year because, “In times like this, we need to laugh.”

One comedy Moore encouraged the audience to see was Anvil! The Story of Anvil, playing Friday and Saturday at 6 p.m. at Lars Hockstad Auditorium. The film follows the 35-year story of perpetually almost-successful Canadian metal band Anvil. If the showings are not both sold out, Moore threatened to shave off his trademark shaggy hair and beard.

After the opening introductions, the event kicked off in earnest with the presentation of the annual Michigan Filmmaker award, given this year to screenwriter and former Detroit Free Press reporter and editor Kurt Luedtke, who wrote the screenplay for 1981’s Absence of Malice and 1985’s Oscar-winning Out of Africa.

After receiving the award, Luedtke and featured director Sabina Guzzanti participated in something new for the festival: Traverse City’s own Walk of Fame. From here on out, writers, directors and other film luminaries who make a stop at the festival will have their handprints and names immortalized in cement on Front Street, á la LA’s Grauman’s Chinese Theatre.

Following that, at a reception held at Red Ginger, Luedtke took the time to sit down and discuss the festival, and what it means for Michigan.

“Well, for Michigan people it means an opportunity to see films they wouldn’t ordinarily see,” he said. “I don’t think there’s another film fest that has the range that the TCFF shows.

“And for it to go on in Traverse, there’s no other way for folks to see the 50 or 60 films shown. For the people who can’t get here, and for the industry, this fest is getting very well known. It’s a chance for independent directors to get their films seen in a way that isn’t always possible.”

He reserves judgment, however, on the Michigan film incentive plan put into action by the government to attract more Hollywood productions to the state by offering a 42% tax refund incentive.

“It’s too soon to tell if Michigan funding plan will work,” Luedtke said. “We won’t have numbers for years. Is it making money or losing money? Hollywood’s a fickle town, they’re just coming because Michigan is offering the money. Another state could offer 45, and that’s the end of Michigan’s day in the sun.”

From that point forward, the festival was officially in full swing with a screening of Woody Allen’s latest, Vicky Christina Barcelona, and a reception for guests and filmmakers held at Building 50, located at Grand Traverse Commons.

Photo(s) by Pete Nichols