As this year’s Traverse City Film Festival draws closer with each passing day, it is my wish to highlight some of the most exquisite, artistic, hidden gems that will grace our venues’ screens. Just Great Movies come in all shapes and sizes and some of the best ones get overlooked sometimes. Each year, I send you all a note to make sure you don’t pass over certain films I’m extremely high on— films you may not have thought about or heard of, but ones I don’t want you to miss.
So here’s my first list of hidden gems you shouldn’t overlook:
“The Brand New Testament“: We all know about the Son of God. But I’ll bet you never heard of the Daughter of God. She’s a 10- year-old girl who lives in Brussels. A stinging satire on religion, patriarchy, and the world in which we live, this is the kind of film people used to picket. Ah, I miss the good old days. See this movie!
“By Sidney Lumet”: The best masterclass of cinema you’ll ever see in a movie, straight from the master himself, shortly before his death. He made “Network,” “Dog Day Afternoon,” “Serpico.” ‘Nuff said.
“The C Word”: My producing partner in crime (and fellow Oscar nominee who made “Sicko” with me) has made the film on cancer that I’ve been hoping someone would make. This is it. Don’t miss it.
“Cameraperson”: Kirsten Johnson, who helped me shoot “Fahrenheit 9/11,” is considered one of the top DPs in the doc world. This is a fascinating look at her work and what it takes to make nonfiction films — a beautifully filmed essay I want you all to see. Plus, I’m in it. So you know it rocks! Hahaha.
“Censored Voices”: Get ready for your jaw to drop to the floor as you hear, for the first time, directly from Israeli soldiers about what they did to innocent Palestinians during the Six-Day War. A monumental piece of journalism and history, thanks in large part to Israeli author Amos Oz.
“Confusion”: Oh, I don’t want to give too much away about this one. Let’s just say it is high time someone made this movie about a Guantanamo detainee and the do-gooders who want to help him– until it becomes too much bother.
“Disturbing the Peace”: The second of four Israeli films at this year’s festival, this one is about the efforts to bring together ex-Israeli soldiers with the Palestinians they used to round up, imprison, and restrict their freedoms. Joining us in TC will be the filmmaker and two of the film’s subjects — a profound moment for us to witness.
“Houston, We Have a Problem!”: Here’s a movie that wants to seriously mess with you! Hahaha. Just say to your friend/spouse/neighbor — “Hey, at least once during this festival we should get effed with! Let’s go see this movie!”
“I Am Belfast”: Made by a TCFF board member and filmmaker extraordinaire Mark Cousins, this is one of the most beautiful and moving films I have seen in years. A poetic masterpiece, a cinematic essay of a town that has been bruised and beaten, this movie is filled with hope when it seems there should be none. Don’t miss this uplifting, mesmerizing piece of Irish cinema.
“Kings of Kallstadt”: Possibly the funniest film in the festival, this is the true story of the German town that produced the Tump family. Everyone in the village today has something to say about The Donald. And then they decide to fly to New York to see if they can meet him. Couldn’t be more timely — and wait for the moment when, on camera, Trump learns that his grandfather was a deportee.
“Kisses for My President”: Oh, please don’t miss this. Yes, it’s at midnight, but that’s only because it’s the Reefer Madness entry this year! This 1964 relic explores what would happen — OMG! — if a woman were elected president! Think of how hard that would be on her husband! Comedian Doug Benson, myself, and others are going to Mystery Schience Theater 3000 this baby live. Do NOT miss the most important laugh riot of this election year! You will say “I WAS THERE!”
“Norman Lear: Just Another Version of You”: A powerful account of the life of the man who revolutionized television, and the role he’s played in our culture and politics. At the end of the screening, we’ll beam him in from LA onto the screen for a live conversation with me.
“Trapped”: Stunning, gut-wrenching, unbelievable. Is it possible, in 2016 — this is not 1916, folks — that we are still having discussions over who owns the reproductive organs of women’s bodies? The film makes it clear that in 80% of the country, there is not a right to choose. A powerful call to action.
“Unlocking the Cage”: I eat meat. I don’t have pets. I hope the shampoo I’m using was tested on a rat. And then I saw this movie. This is not one of those late-night infomercials on abused animals. This is a film about human lawyers trying to get human rights given to animals. And damned if they don’t make sense. A true game changer, from the esteemed documentary filmmakers D.A. Pennebaker and Chris Hegedus.