Traverse City’s annual Film Festival is drawing near, July 28 through August 2, and, to help you make the most of a huge batch of films, I’ve combed the list, made my picks, and will now share the opinion of a 20-year old editorial intern. To be clear: I haven’t seen any of these films, but I’ve surfed a lot of trailers and read a lot of summaries. So, now that has let me off my chain we can leap right in, if you’re ready.

In the Loop

This British comedy sends up the general ineptitude of government bureaucracy as the United States and the United Kingdom prepare for war. As someone who watches C-SPAN for the laughs (and if you’ve never done it, it’s surprisingly fertile comedic ground), I can’t recommend the idea of satirizing government more highly. In the Loop appears to carry the vibe of the irreverent political comedy and marries it to fast, snappy dialogue. The film looks Peter Sellers-ish to me, but that’s more a hope than an honest assessment. I did laugh out loud in the office watching the trailer, though. Do you realize how rare and mildly embarrassing that is?

3 p.m. Friday, July 31 State Theatre

6 p.m. Saturday, August 1 Lars Hockstad Auditorium

Burma VJ

I have a vested interest in reporting, which may be obvious, given the internship I’m working. It’s probably not a huge surprise, then, that I picked this film, which follows a group of underground Burmese video journalists as they document a series of 2007 protests against their government and smuggle the footage out of Burma. Burma VJ looks to have the twin effects of educating its audience about the repressive Burmese regime (important, but not necessarily fun)and making me proud to call myself a journalist for 84 minutes. The quest-for-truth/right-to-know motivation is a strong one and the film boils journalism down to its most altruistic element: that information has the ability to affect change.

3 p.m. Thursday, July 30 Old Town Playhouse

6 p.m. Sunday August 2 Milliken Auditorium

Big Fan

Like many other skinny, uncoordinated people, I’m not a huge sports fan. However, (again, like many other skinny, uncoordinated people) I am a fan of good screenwriting, the Onion and comedian Patton Oswalt. That should explain the place of Big Fan on this list. The film stars Oswalt (Pixar’s Ratatouille and The King of Queens) as a New York Giants super-fan who finds himself beaten and hospitalized by his favorite player. The drama is directed by Robert Siegel, editor of the Onion, the satirical online magazine, and the writer behind Darren Aronofsky’s The Wrestler. The icing on the cake: Oswalt’s personal appearance at the screening.

6 p.m. Wednesday, July 29 State Theater

9 p.m. Thursday, July 30 Lars Hockstad Auditorium

Waltz with Bashir

The visuals of this movie initially caught my eye. Beautiful is the only way to describe the animation that’s unlike anything I’ve seen in a mainstream movie. It resembles some of the best Flash animation you’ll see on the Internet, but, instead of just showing off technical skill like many of those clips, it carries the documentary maker through interviews that help him relive the 1982 war between Israel and Lebanon. The film lives in that blurry space where a strict, documentary definition may not apply, but it marries its informative aims so well to such striking art, that I don’t think you’ll care.

Noon Friday, July 31 Old Town Playhouse


Departures was this year’s Best Foreign Language Film at the Oscars, and, even if the Academy gets its tickets punched by corporate backers, it looks like an outstanding movie. The Japanese film is the story of a cellist who starts working in a crematorium after his orchestra is disbanded. Departures is a great opportunity to see something that only rarely makes it to the United States, a Japanese movie not featuring swords, ninjas or robots. Look at the trailer below: the visuals are beautiful, the music is touching, and one genuinely funny moment vaulted the language barrier in this two-and-a-half minute stretch.

Noon Thursday, July 30 Milliken Auditorium


I am a science fiction fan. No Star Trek convention-goer or closet Jedi, but I do enjoy a well-told story that happens to involve laser guns. Even if you don’t agree that sci-fi is the groundbreaking art form of the 20th century, 1927’s silent Metropolis is an important film. It’s a genre cornerstone, one of the earliest appearances of movie robots, and tells an engrossing and timely (in 1920’s Eastern Europe) story about class struggle. Plus, how often do you have the opportunity to watch a silent movie in a theater with full orchestral accompaniment? If you’re me (which you’re not, obviously), the answer to that is “never.” Or, "rarely," anyway, because now I can.

Noon Sunday, August 2 State Theater

Mary and Max

I’m not sure what the consensus is on claymation. Whether it’s a labor-intensive way to make cartoons that is on the way out or a fine craft that produces a labor of love, it’s kryptonite to me. I love the simplicity and depth that comes with the style. The Nightmare Before Christmas is the modern staple, but Coraline this year was great. Moviemaking by way of manipulating little figurines brings an unmatched visual style and a storybook feel, even to the Mary and Max story of an Australian schoolgirl and a lonely New Yorker who become penpals. The script could have become a live-action movie, to be sure, but I like the idea of the style mismatch: cartoonish visuals and (somewhat) grounded story. Philip Seymour Hoffman voices one of the main characters, which is just another point in the movie’s favor.

6 p.m. Friday, July 31 City Opera House

Noon Sunday, August 2 Lars Hockstad Auditorium

Here are a few films that didn’t make my top seven. There are four, otherwise, we may have been working with a top 10 list to begin with.

Winnebago Man- Explores the life of viral videos by tracking down the subject of the profanity-laden RV ad outtakes that became a Youtube hit. Laila’s Birthday- A day in the life of a consummately moral Palestinian cab driver.
Examined Life- A series of contemporary discussions with influential philosophers Troubled Water- This Norwegian film tells the story of a talented church organist with a dark past.

Looking to enjoy a bite-size chunk of the film festival? Check out the Traverse City Film Festival’s Shorts Programs to experience a lot of filmmaking in just a short time.

Shorts by Students Noon Sunday, August 2 Old Town Playhouse

Shorts by University of Michigan Students Noon Thursday, July 30 City Opera House

Shorts for Adults 6 p.m. Friday, July 31 Old Town Playhouse

Shorts for Kids 9:30 a.m. Friday, July 31 State Theater

Find Out More About the Traverse City Film Festival:

Click on the 2009 Traverse City Filmgoer Guide: Make the most of your Film Festival Week! 

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