To my friends and fellow supporters of the Traverse City Film Festival,
This was to have been our week! The 2020 Traverse City Film Festival! Our 16th year in a row of bringing “Just Great Movies” to Northern Michigan.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t tell you how utterly sad I am right now that we are not watching amazing films at The Kubrick in the historic Central Grade School, attending exciting and hilarious panels at the Old Town Playhouse, and laying out under the stars watching “Casablanca” with loved ones (and 5,000 strangers) in the Open Space by the bay. I know you’re with me on this. It’s a bummer, pure and simple. And if anything, it steels my resolve to not let this festival die. No way.
It has now been five long months since the Governor rightly closed all movie theaters and cancelled all festivals in Michigan. (She has now allowed some cinemas to re-open, but with only very limited attendance. That’s not us.) This shut down of our theaters has been a disaster for TCFF. It has cost us a whopping $500,000 in lost revenue. And by not having our festival, that’s another $500,000 of lost funds we normally raise to help run the theaters year-round. This is a blow we won’t recover from without your help, without the government’s help, without our vendors and partners giving us a generous break.
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So let me try to offer some hope. Most important for all of us is to remember that this is not a forever pandemic. It WILL end. It could end (or be contained) within the year — as it seems to have in nearly every other developed nation in the world. Or it will take us three to four years. That’s entirely up to us and our friends who are partying out on the Torch Lake sandbar.
This is not our first encounter with adversity. Powerful forces tried to stop the Traverse City Film Festival before we even unspooled our first film back in 2005. The State Theatre has twice had big fires in the past 97 years, but that didn’t stop the movies from being shown. World Wars, the Great Depression, the Flu of 1918 — none of that stopped us. Only Covid-19 did. In just five months it has left us at the festival and at the State and Bijou broke, in debt, and our entire staff without a job.
Friends of mine have died in New York City. Everyone I work with in the film industry has lost their job. And across the country, another 50 million Americans have also lost their jobs. As of midnight yesterday, their federal unemployment benefits vaporized. Now massive foreclosures and evictions will begin. We are in a nationwide panic of epic proportions.
The only silver lining in all of this has been you. 309 of you responded to our crowdfunding campaign in June. You saved us from totally going under in June and July. Even in lockdown, we still have significant monthly bills to pay: fire, theft, liability and building insurance, security systems, warehouse rental, utilities — the list goes on. We currently have five sump pumps that run continuously, 24/7, to shove the Boardman River out of the basement of the State Theatre.
We had hoped we could reopen by now, but the Hollywood studios are shut down and are not making movies. They have decided not to release any major new films for perhaps the rest of the year. And the spread of the virus in our area just got worse. There is no way we’re risking anyone’s life in order to show a movie.
Here’s what I’m doing with my time. First off, I’m well. And I’m alive! I meet daily on the phone and on Zoom with the festival board’s exec committee and with our task force which has been charged with getting us through this and creating our post-pandemic relaunch. We are putting together a great and sensible plan for our return.
I’m also working hard on many other initiatives to help end this pandemic and to stem the forces that are only making it worse. I’m also writing my next film and I’ve started a podcast where each week I interview, among others, brilliant scientists and provocative thinkers to help us sort ourselves through the mess we’re in. There are some things you and I simply have no control over. But saving this festival and its theaters and making sure they re-open? THAT is something that WILL happen because you and I will accept no other alternative.
Your contributions have resulted in us getting through these first five months. Thank you for that!
But now we desperately need to get through the next five to ten months, keeping our theaters maintained and safe and our infrastructure intact. Please help us do that by clicking here.
Thank you for your support over the years. None of this exists without you. Please stay safe and stay kind. And don’t despair. The virus may mess with us, but it can’t kill art. It can’t kill the movies. Here’s to turning our marquee on once again and to lighting up the silver screen!
All my best,
P.S. I’ll email you again in the next couple weeks to report on our progress. We’ve paused our virtual home cinema as we have no staff to run it. If you would like to share with me any ideas or ask any questions, please write me at my private email address: firstname.lastname@example.org. I read all my own email and only I have access to it. I’d love to hear from you.