“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 Academy of Television Arts & Sciences, Traverse City native, community leader, and former marketing executive at the Walt Disney Company. 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.”

Co-founder John Robert Williams is also a lifelong resident of Traverse City. A full-time commercial photographer for over 26 years, his studio is in the center of downtown Traverse City. He has served Traverse City since he was appointed to the City Planning Commission at age 17. A long-time member of Rotary Charities, he has been instrumental in founding the Dennos Museum, TART Trails, radio station WNMC, and Cross-Town Properties’ affordable housing.


Michael Moore, Founder

Doug Stanton, Co-Founder
John Robert Williams, Co-Founder
Susan Brown, Co-Founder
Jason Pollock, 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.


What are the dates of the upcoming festivals? The 2017 festival will be held July 25 – 30. Tentative dates for 2018 are July 24-29.

Where is Traverse City? Traverse City is located in the northwest corner of Michigan’s lower peninsula in the resort region on Grand Traverse Bay.

How do I submit a film? The Traverse City Film Festival is by invitation only, but we’d love to see your films and suggestions. Filmmakers may submit their films unofficially and they will be passed on to the programmer. There is no submission form or fee, and also no feedback mechanism — we cannot guarantee that your film will be viewed. All filmmakers wishing to submit a film must use our submissions form that can be accessed here.

I’d like to help. How can I get involved? Volunteers are the foundation of the Traverse City Film Festival. Sign up online now by filling out an application for the festival. Leadership positions are available.

Can I contribute to the festival in other ways? Yes! Sponsorships are available in at a variety of levels and benefits. Friends memberships also support the festival in a big way and Friends receive great perks like early ticketing and access to our Friends Only Screening Parties.

How can I stay informed about the festival all year round? Patrons can sign up to receive festival news alerts by email. Sign up here.

Where are the festival movies shown? The festival screens movies in downtown Traverse City at ten venues: State Theatre, Old Town Playhouse, Lars Hockstad Auditorium, City Opera House, Milliken Auditorium, Bijou by the Bay, The Buzz, Dutmers Theater, Movies on a Boat, and the Open Space Park Outdoor Cinema on the waterfront.

What kinds of films are shown? The festival shows approximately 250 films each year ranging from documentary and fiction, U.S. and Foreign, feature length and shorts. We have movies for kids, movies for tweens, all-time favorite classics and blockbusters on the big screen at the Open Space, movies for cinephiles, romances, comedies, drama, adventure, action, mysteries, and more! There’s something for everyone.

When will the schedule be announced? The schedule for the 2017 festival will be release on June 23. Visit our timeline for other important festival dates.

How can I get tickets? Tickets can be purchased both online and at the main box office in advance of the festival. And during the festival, tickets are also available at each individual indoor venue. Find more info on ticketing, including sales dates, here.

What is a standby line? If a show is listed as “Stand By Line Only,” a standby ticket line will form one hour before the screening. So even if you hear that a show is sold out, our experience tells us that a few seats will open up.

What’s a voucher and how can I use it?  Vouchers cost $12 and are good for any regularly priced movie at the TCFF! Voucher holders can present their voucher at a box office and exchange it for a ticket to any regularly priced film, if that film is not sold out. They also can get in the standby line for a show without any available tickets, and wait to see if seats become available. Voucher holders go to the front of the standby line. Vouchers do not expire at the end of the festival, they are good for two years. Vouchers purchased at the 2016 festival will be honored in 2017, and vouchers purchased in 2017 will be honored through 2018. 

How can I learn more about filmmaking? The Traverse City Film Festival features a film school, with classes held Wednesday through Sunday, twice daily. Classes, held at Scholars Hall at Northwestern Michigan College, are taught by industry experts.

Are there any free movies at the festival? Each night of the festival, classic films are shown on the waterfront in the city’s Open Space Park on a giant inflatable screen. No admission is charged. Seating is general admission, so be sure to bring chairs and blankets. The Buzz at Central Grade School is dedicated to bringing inspiring, interesting, intelligent movies to the public completely FREE of charge, all day every festival day! For more information about how to attend the festival on a budget, click here.

Are dogs allowed at the Open Space movies? Dogs are not allowed at the Open Space Outdoor Cinema. While we encourage you to bring blankets, chairs, and coolers, please leave your four-legged friends at home.

What other programming is at the festival beside films? We have a robust music scene at the festival including performances before most screenings, at parties, and more. Visitors can enjoy our free industry panels, take a $5 film school class, enjoy the activities at our free kids fest, attend official festival parties and after parties, or visit the future of storytelling at The Woz.

Is the festival accessible? Yes, for more information on accessibility and accommodation requests please visit here.

Where can I park? We recommend parking in either the NMC Cherry Lot on the east side or Thirlby Field on the west and using our free, green, and easy shuttle loop to get downtown without worry or cost. For more info on parking downtown, visit our How To Festival page.

Can I bring my kids? The festival has many activities for children and families including our free kids fest lawn party, $1 kids movies, and our free movies at the Open Space. We also designate certain films in our #tween section as appropriate for PG and PG-13 audiences.

Are films in the festival rated? Most films at the festival have not been rated by the Motion Picture Association of America. Ratings are listed when applicable. Please read the film descriptions, do your own research on sites like Common Sense Media, and choose responsibly.

I’m a musician. How can I become one of your performers? Awesome! Simply visit our music page to review all the info about being a TCFF musician, complete a brief application, and we’ll be in touch.

How is the festival financially supported? The festival is funded by local and national businesses, community groups, and individuals. Sponsors are needed for each theater, film, filmmaker, and event. If you would like to contribute, please contact us at 231-392-1134. The Traverse City Film Festival is a 501(c)3  non-profit organization with tax-exempt status.

Who created the festival? The Traverse City Film Festival was founded by Oscar-winning filmmaker Michael Moore in collaboration with photographer John Robert Williams and author Doug Stanton. Festival board members include filmmakers Larry Charles (“Borat”), Terry George (“Hotel Rwanda”), actor Jeff Daniels (“The Newsroom”), actress Christine Lahti (“Lieberman in Love”), producer Rod Birleson (“Capitalism: A Love Story”), musician Tom Morello (Rage Against the Machine), filmmaker Mark Cousins (“The Story of Film: An Odyssey”), filmmaker Tia Lessin (“Trouble the Water”), marketing executive Penny Milliken, and co-founder John Robert Williams.

Are there any year-round festival activities? The Traverse City Film Festival operates two year-round movie houses, the historic State Theatre, and the Bijou by Bay, in downtown Traverse City. Visit the State and Bijou website for complete information.

If I have more questions, how can I contact someone at the festival? We can be reached by phone at the festival office at 231-392-1134, via email at info@tcff.org or via mail at: PO Box 4064, Traverse City, MI 49685.

Festival by the Numbers

The 2016 festival

  • 123,000 admissions
  • 82% of available tickets sold to 255 screenings, of which 160 were sold out
  • 120 features, 107 shorts across 10 venues
  • 175 industry guests
  • 3,000 Volunteers
  • 200 festival musicians
  • 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

The 2015 festival

  • 100,000 admissions
  • 81% of available tickets sold to 225 screenings, of which 170 were sold out
  • 123 features, 121 shorts across 10 venues
  • 160 industry guests
  • 3,000 Volunteers
  • 500 festival musicians
  • Lifetime Achievement Award: Geraldine Chaplin
  • Michigan Filmmaker Award: Roger Corman
  • Visionary Award: Robert Altman
  • State Theatre Centennial Event
  • The Woz Interactive Gallery Added

The 2014 festival

  • 10th Anniversary
  • 131,000 admissions
  • 82% of available tickets sold to 250 screenings, of which 170 were sold out
  • 128 features, 85 shorts across 10 venues
  • 160 industry guests
  • 1,600 Volunteers, 500 Volunteer Managers
  • 100 festival musicians
  • Mid-Life Achievement Award: Barbara Kopple
  • Movie Around the World
  • The Buzz and Movies on a Boat added as Venues
  • “Best of” Open Space

The 2013 festival

  • 119,000 admissions
  • 85% of available tickets sold to 188 screenings, of which 123 were sold out
  • 102 features, 52 shorts across ten venues
  • 150 industry guests
  • 1,500 Volunteers, 250 Volunteer Managers
  • 80 festival musicians
  • 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

The 2012 festival

  • 91,000 admissions
  • 93 features, 117 shorts from every continent but Antarctica
  • 167 industry guests
  • MI Filmmaker Award: Winsor McCay

The 2011 festival

  • 128,000 admissions
  • 156 screenings
  • 147 films (88 features and 59 shorts) from every continent but Antarctica
  • 130 industry guests
  • 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

The 2010 festival

  • 106,000 admissions
  • 80 films and 40 shorts from over 25 countries at 135 screenings
  • Second annual film school, doubled in size
  • Five free panel discussions and six outdoor movies
  • 70 industry guests
  • MI Filmmaker Award: John Hughes

The 2009 festival

  • 96,000 admissions
  • 71 films and 50 shorts from over 30 countries at 123 screenings
  • New film school, new kids fest
  • Five free panel discussions and outdoor movies
  • 65 film industry guests
  • MI Filmmaker Award: Rich Brauer

The 2008 festival

  • 80,000 admissions
  • 71 films at 108 screenings
  • Three student workshops and students shorts
  • Five free panel discussions and outdoor movies
  • 50 film industry guests
  • A new 400-seat venue
  • MI Filmmaker Award: Kurt Luedtke

The 2007 festival

  • 80,000 admissions
  • Six days long
  • 66 films at 98 screenings
  • Two student workshops and short films by student filmmakers
  • Five free panel discussions
  • 30 film industry guests
  • A new 900-seat venue
  • MI Filmmaker Award: Chirstine Lahti

The 2006 festival

  • 70,000 admissions
  • Seven days long
  • 67 films at 95 screenings
  • A student workshop and short films by student filmmakers
  • Six free panel discussions
  • 40 film industry guests
  • MI Filmmaker Award: Jeff Daniels

2005 inaugural festival

  • 50,000 admissions
  • Five days long
  • Planned in a two-month span
  • 31 films at 52 screenings
  • Four free panel discussions
  • 10 film industry guests