Rod Birleson

Meet the TCFF moderators for 2017!

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. He is current TCFF’s newest board member. “I am honored and pleased to have the opportunity to serve as a TCCF Board Member. This film festival is the best example of all the good that can come from a community that works together.”


 Doug Benson is an American comedian, marijuana advocate, television host actor and judge who has appeared on Comedy Central Presents, Best Week Ever, Trailer Park Boys and was a contestant on Last Comic Standing in the show’s fifth season. He currently serves as a judge for the Comedy Central series The High Court with Doug Benson.






Recently named to 2013 Indiewire Influencers List, Russ Collins has served as the Executive Director of the Michigan Theater in Ann Arbor for 30 years. He founded and directs the Cinetopia International Film Festival and the Art House Convergence – the nation’s largest annual conference of non-profit community-based cinemas. The Michigan Theater is a Sundance Film Festival USA site and was recognized as an Outstanding Historic Theatre in North America by the League of Historic American Theaters. Russ was a NEA Media Arts Fellow and was knighted by Republic of Italy for his promotion of Italian film culture in the United States. He teaches film studies at Eastern Michigan University and is the host of “Cinema Chat,” a weekly radio program that airs on National Public Radio affiliate WEMU and appears in print for He received both a Bachelors and Master’s Degree (in arts administration) from the University of Michigan.

Deborah Collings Cutler’s love of movies began at a very young age, watching classic movies on “Million Dollar Movies” with her dad too late at night. She was hooked! At Emerson College, where she was their first female projectionist and at University of London, Deborah studied photography and theatre arts. In publishing,she was a freelance photographer and a darkroom lab rat. Deborah served as the business manager of the Magic Lantern Theatre (film) in Bridgton, Maine. She was a senior photo researcher for the agency Stock,Boston in Boston,MA. Deborah was active in the early formation of Boston Light & Sound, then a film dailies system supplier for major motion picture studios in the U.S. She served as Business Manager including managing its in house screening room. She has worked in film tech and projection support with the Telluride Film Festival in Telluride,Colorado since 1984. Deborah serves as Film Moderator for the Sedona International Film Festival,Sedona, AZ as well as at The Provincetown International Film Festival on Cape Cod in Provincetown, Massachusetts. She continues to be fascinated by the stories filmmakers tell us on film and in person.

Carl Deal is an American documetary filmaker. He is the producer and director of the film Trouble the Water as well as co-producter of Michael Moore’s “Capitalism: A Love Story” and “Farenheit 9/11”.




Ira Deutchman has been making, marketing and distributing films since 1975, having worked on over 150 films including some of the most successful independent films of all time. He was one of the founders of Cinecom and later created Fine Line Features—two companies that were created from scratch and, in their respective times, helped define the independent film business. He was also a co-founder of Emerging Pictures, the first digital projection network in the United States and a pioneer in delivering live cultural events into movie theaters.

Other films Deutchman has worked on were “Sex, Lies, and Videotape,” ”To Sleep with Anger,” “Metropolitan,” “A Room with a View,” “Stop Making Sense,” “El Norte,” and “The Brother from Another Planet.”

His screen credits include Associate Producer of John Sayles’ “Matewan;” Executive Producer of Jonathan Demme’s “Swimming to Cambodia,” Gary Sinise’s “Miles From Home,” Paul Bartel’s “Scenes from the Class Struggle in Beverly Hills,” Matty Rich’s “Straight Out of Brooklyn,” Stephen Gyllenhaal’s “Waterland,” Maggie Greenwald’s “The Ballad of Little Jo,” Alan Rudolph’s “Mrs. Parker & the Vicious Circle,” Paul Auster’s “Lulu On the Bridge,” Wayne Wang’s “Center of the World,” Daniel Noah’s “Twelve,” Anthony Jaswinski’s “Killing Time,” Loren-Paul Caplin’s “The Lucky Ones,” Amy Wadell’s “Brothel” and Georgia Lee’s “Red Doors;” and Co-Producer of David Anspaugh’s “The Game of Their Lives.” Deutchman was the Producer of Tony Vitale’s “Kiss Me, Guido,” Sarah Kernochan’s “All I Wanna Do,” Mark Christopher’s “54,” Adam Davidson’s “Way Past Cool,” Bob Gale’s “Interstate 60,” Tanya Wexler’s “Relative Evil,” Ann Hu’s “Beauty Remains” and Ed Radtke’s “Speed of Life.” He was also Consulting Producer on the CBS sitcom “Some of My Best Friends.”

He is a graduate of Northwestern University, with a major in film.

Victor Fanucchi is a writer, filmmaker and educator. He began teaching at the University of Michigan in 2004 after working in Los Angeles for several years, where he made short films “Chekhov’s Gun,” “First Prince” and “Dream House,” and worked a variety of film-related jobs, including editing award-winning trailers for Sony Classics, October Films and Miramax, as well as organizing film series and filmmaker appearances at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Based in Ann Arbor, he continues to make features and shorts that play in film festivals around the country.


Colin Gunkel is an Associate Professor of Screen Arts and Cultures, American Culture and Latina/o Studies at the University of Michigan and the author of Mexico on Main Street: Transnational Film Culture in Los Angeles before World War II (Rutgers University Press, 2015). He has published essays in a number of scholarly journals, including American Quarterly, Aztlán: A Journal of Chicano Studies, Film History and Velvet Light Trap. He also serves as Associate Editor of the A Ver: Revisioning Art History monograph series on individual Latino/a artists.




Phil Hallman is the Film Studies Field Librarian at the University of Michigan where he is a reference librarian and selector for the cinema studies books and periodicals for the Hatcher Graduate Library. Additionally, he works with the Department of Screen Arts & Cultures and is the Head of the Donald Hall Collection, a unique collection devoted to the study of cinema that includes over 20,000 dvd titles and some 3,000 screenplays. He teaches various library research classes for the department and curates the Projectorhead film series sponsored by SAC. He served as a juror for the 2011 and 2012 TCFF in the American documentary/feature film category. He presented a panel at the 2012 SXSW Film Festival in Austin, TX entitled “Dig Deep: Libraries, Archives and Filmmaking.” He has presented conferences papers at the 2011 , 2012 & 2013 Society of Cinema and Media Studies Conferences and he is a member of the SCMS Media Archives committee. This spring, he co-organized an exhibit based on materials from the U-UM’s Robert Altman archive collection and oversaw a symposium devoted to Altman in June. Currently he is constructing a database for a research project entitled “Mapping the Motor City’s Cinemas.”

Peter Johnston is the Production Manager for Michigan State University’s Film Studies program where he manages the film lab and teaches production courses, and the creative director for video for the MSU College of Arts & Letters Marketing office. He’s also an accomplished fiction and documentary filmmaker, and in his spare time loves to brew beer.





Anders Kelto is a journalist who served as a foreign correspondent for National Public Radio (NPR) and PRI’s The World. Based in Africa for five years, he covered everything from the 2010 World Cup to the 2014 Ebola outbreak in West Africa. Prior to that he was a writer and editor at National Geographic. A native of Traverse City, Anders returns to Northern Michigan every summer to run his ever-popular Mr. Soccer Camp.



Aademy Award-nominated filmmaker Tia Lessin is the director and producer, with Carl Deal, of Trouble the Water (winner of the Sundance Film Festival’s Grand Jury Prize, the Gotham Independent Film Award and the Full Frame Film Festival’s Grand Jury Prize) and of Citizen Koch which was shortlisted for the 2015 Oscars. Her documentary short Behind the Labels won the Sidney Hillman Award for Broadcast Journalism.

Tia produced Michael Moore’s last film Where To Invade Next (shortlisted for the 2016 Oscars), co-produced Palme d’Orwinning Fahrenheit 9/11, Academy Award-winning Bowling for Columbine, and Capitalism: A Love Story and line produced Martin Scorsese’s Emmy and Grammy winning film No Direction Home: Bob Dylan. Her work producing the series The Awful Truth earned her two Emmy nominations, one arrest, and a lifetime ban from Disneyland. Tia is TCFF board vice president.

Michael Mittelstaedt is the founding director of the Motion Picture Arts Division at Interlochen Center for the Arts. Mittelstaedt worked as producer/director for Broadview Media of Chicago from 2001 – 05, during which he served as producer for the HGTV series New Spaces. Mittelstaedt also served as director, producer and editor of “America in the 20th Century,” a comprehensive series of documentaries, which chronicle the last century U.S. history, released nationally in 2001. From 2003 to 2005 he was lead producer and technology chair of For Global Progress NFP, directing their annual fundraising event in conjunction with UCLA’s David Geffen School of Medicine/AIDS Institute. Mittelstaedt has worked internationally in film in the Czech Republic and Peru. His independent film works have been featured at The New York Festivals, Seattle Underground Film Festival, Rooftop Films N.Y., Michigan’s Own, and Visions D.C.

Sheila C.Murphy (PhD., Visual Studies, University of California, Irvine, 2002) is Associate Professor of Screen Arts and Cultures and specializes in Digital Media Studies (Internet cultures, video game history, convergence cultures). She is the author of How Television Invented New Media (Rutgers University Press, 2011) and of essays appeared in The Journal of Visual Culture and such anthologies as The Video Game Theory Reader 2.0 (2008). Her current book project, entitled ReLoad: The Emergence of Internet Visuality, traces the ways the Internet has become host to its own visual cultures and, through a close study of software and hardware development, provides a historical account of the image types and image-making practices found online since the introduction of the world wide web in 1994. She loves watching the amazing and provocative films shown in Traverse City at the Film Festival, whose volunteers, audiences and community remind her how good movies can make the world better.

Photo credit – Ryan Kerwin

Deb Polich (President/CEO, Artrain, Inc. & The Arts Alliance) has served as director of Artrain, Inc. since 1993 and in 2012 she added the responsibility of leading The Arts Alliance.

Originally a museum-on-a-train that delivered art exhibitions, Artrain today provides project management services to institutions and provides arts and cultural outreach programs for under-resourced communities. Artrain received the 2006 National Medal for Museum Service.

The Arts Alliance advocates for and supports the arts and creative Industries in Washtenaw County, MI – art and creative individuals and businesses – to ensure that the greater Ann Arbor area remains a great place to create, live, work, learn, play and visit.

Polich developed her love of film early in her career working at the Michigan Theater in Ann Arbor, MI. She holds an arts administration degree from Eastern Michigan University (EMU). Polich sits on the boards of the Southeast Michigan Workforce, Creative Many Michigan, EMU’s College of Arts & Science Advancement, Masters of Public Administration and Nonprofit Leadership Alliance boards.

Thom Powers is the documentary programmer for the Toronto International Film Festival; and artistic director of America’s largest documentary festival DOC NYC. He hosts the podcasts Pure Nonfiction and “Documentary of the Week” for New York’s public radio station WNYC. He programs for the digital platform Sundance Now; the Miami Film Festival; and the Stranger Than Fiction series at New York’s IFC Center. He is a co-founder of the Cinema Eye Honors; the Garrett Scott Documentary Grant; and the Montclair Film Festival. He teaches documentary producing at the School of Visual Arts. Before working as a festival programmer, Powers spent a decade directing documentaries for HBO and PBS; and had a previous career in publishing at Fantagraphics Books. He grew up in the Detroit suburbs and now lives with his wife Raphaela Neihausen and their son Bez in Montclair, New Jersey.





V Prasad – A screenwriter and director, Prasad’s produced work includes the theatrical release Ocean of Pearls, which was developed in the Film Independent Screenwriters Lab. Other screenplays include Sid Says, which won the Lawrence Kasdan Scholarship in Creative Writing and Radha’s Prayer, developed in the IFP/West Director’s Lab. Prasad holds an MFA in Screenwriting from the American Film Institute and teaches the craft at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor and the UCLA Extension Writer’s Program. Over the years, his students have come from all walks of life, from film students to building contractors, doctors, kindergarten teachers and even a Bond girl. As a story consultant, Prasad has lent his expertise to many companies including Working Title, BET, and Lion’s Gate providing development notes on projects as diverse as The Punisher and State of Play. In addition to his work as a filmmaker, instructor and consultant, Prasad has also served as a programmer for the Indian Film Festival of Los Angeles specializing in films from South India and the Indian Diaspora. Currently, Prasad is in post-production on Consideration, his directorial debut.

Yeidy M. Rivero  (Chair of the Department of Screens Arts and Cultures, Professor of Screen Arts and Cultures and American Culture.)- Her research centers on television history, media and globalization, and race and ethnic representations in media. She is the author of Tuning Out Blackness: Race and Nation in the History of Puerto Rican Television (Duke University Press, 2005), Broadcasting Modernity: Cuban Commercial Television, 1950-1960 (Duke University Press, 2015), and co-editor (with Arlene Dávila) of Contemporary Latino Media: Production, Circulation, Politics (New York University Press, 2015). Her new book project, tentatively titled The Original Miami Sound Machine: Cuban Exiles, the Cold War, and the Emergence of Miami as a Media Capital, examines propaganda-oriented entertainment radio produced in Miami and targeted to Cuba and Latin America during the 1960s.




Jack Segal is a retired US diplomat who served overseas in Russia, Israel/Palestine, Greece and Botswana, and as a member of the START arms control negotiating team in Geneva. As a senior diplomat, with his wife Karen, they created the first U.S. Consulate General to central Russia. Jack went on to become a member of the National Security Council under President Clinton and was senior political advisor to the NATO operational commander in Afghanistan. With Karen, he currently co-chairs the local chapter of the World Affairs Council (“The International Affairs Forum of Traverse City” – and he teaches at the local college and to graduate students online. He enjoys political humor, particularly U.S. presidential campaign promises.

Matthew Solomon (PhD, UCLA) is an associate professor in the Department of Screen Arts and Cultures at the University of Michigan, where he teaches film history and film theory. He is the author of a 2015 book about The Gold Rush for the BFI Film Classics series, and the author of Disappearing Tricks: Silent Film, Houdini, and the New Magic of the Twentieth Century, which won the Kraszna-Krausz Award for best moving image book in 2011, as well as the editor of Fantastic Voyages of the Cinematic Imagination: Georges Méliès’s Trip to the Moon, which was published with a critical edition DVD. He is at work on a book prospectively titled “Méliès: Incoherent Glimpses of the Modern World.

Oliver Thornton is an EMMY® Award-winning writer/producer who has worked with broadcast stations and independent production companies to produce a range of projects from PSA campaigns to full-length documentaries and series. He was the co-writer and co-producer of the EMMY® Award-winning Think Squad series on Detroit Public Television as well as the documentaries Blue Ice: The Story of Michigan Hockey and Detroit Titan Court Report: Legends & Traditions broadcast on FSN Detroit. His recent projects include Feel Grand with Jane Seymour, a nationally distributed talk show through American Public Television, as well as pre-production for a documentary on filmmaker John Sayles.

Lesley Alicia Tye is a writer and instructor of screenwriting and film at Interlochen Center for the Arts. She earned her BFA in Screenwriting from the University of Southern California and her MFA in Creative Writing from National University. Lesley has also taught seminars for Michigan Writers and Northwestern Michigan College’s extension program. Previously she worked in Los Angeles in film and television, with credits including casting assistant, below-the-line agent with Casala, Ltd, and Costume Designer for the feature Two Coyotes and short The Millennium. Her flash fiction has been published in the anthology Bite from Trachodon Publishing. She has written several feature length screenplays, and was co-writer for the television pilot Devin’s Chronicles for Caspian Sea Entertainment. Here in Traverse City Lesley is co-creator of the Mash-Up Rock ‘n Roll Musical Troupe and wrote and directed their first two shows How Grinchy Met the Who and Grimm’s Alternative Fairytales.


Panel Back to Top