If you’ve never been to the Traverse City Film Festival, you’re missing out. You’ve probably heard of it – it’s one of Traverse City’s biggest staples, and is rated one of the “25 Coolest Film Festivals in the World,” while being nationally recognized for its top-notch lineup and inviting atmosphere.  People from all over the globe come to see top selections at tons of cool venues, especially “Movies on a Boat,” which is exactly what it sounds like – a movie screening on a sailboat! How better to represent Michigan than to have one of its movie venues right on top of the lake?

And, while the Festival’s lineup is a well-kept secret for most of the year, they’ve finally released their 2016 schedule – and it’s awesome.

There are a few themes this summer, all of which are equally exciting, but my personal favorite is the theme of female filmmakers. This year’s Festival will be celebrating the film contributions of women and minorities, groups who are not often given a fair chance in Hollywood. In fact, two of the most important film categories in the Festival are filled entirely with movies made by women: U.S. narratives and U.S. documentaries. One of the most notable of these, called “Hooligan Sparrow,” actually follows the guerrilla journalism of Chinese human rights activist Ye Haiyan. She and the film’s creator, Nanfu Wang, went through police chases, interrogations, harassment and imprisonment, all to promote women’s rights and create the documentary (which had to be smuggled out of China on hard drives). But don’t worry, there’s plenty of lighthearted comedies as well!


While Michael Moore, co-founder of the Festival and producer of award-winning movies such as Fahrenheit 9/11 and Bowling for Columbine, wasn’t actually looking to exclude movies by men (his original goal was fair representation and so wanted at least half of the Festival’s movies to be made by women, but ended up finding so many great films that he couldn’t resist), he didn’t forget his sense of humor – one of this year’s categories is “Men Make Movies – The Struggle Continues.” Although I’m sure the men’s movies won’t be struggles, I did get a bit of a chuckle out of that one.

I also found another new category pretty entertaining: “Movies for Smart People.” It’s made up of mostly documentaries but has a couple of sci-fi flicks thrown in, all of which are intended to make you think and leave you asking questions. I’ll definitely be attending at least a few of these, partly because they look extremely interesting, but mostly to keep my pride intact. No one can tell me I can’t handle a smart-people movie!

And, of course, there’s the new “Michiganders Make Movies” – a category that does exactly what it sounds like it would do and showcases films made by Michigan natives. There’s even a program featuring shorts made by Michigan State University students, and another by University of Michigan students

But movie categories aren’t the only new arrivals for this year’s Festival. One aspect I’m particularly looking forward to is the newly official “Movies on Tap,” which lets moviegoers meet filmmakers, directors and producers after certain movies at local bars (7 Monks & Low Bar, Little Fleet, and The Parlor). I’m not sure about anyone else but one of my favorite parts about watching movies, especially those laden with meaning, is picking it apart afterwards – and what a great idea to do that while grabbing a beer or a soda with the makers themselves. I’m surprised it’s not a standard at every movie festival! 

All of these cool new features for 2016's Festival are piled on top of an already warm, exciting, and all-around well-loved experience. People from all over the world come to see great movies at the unique venues and experience the fun and welcoming atmosphere of Traverse City, something that really is hard to beat. One festivalgoer said he loved getting “the culture of a large city and the hospitality of a small city” every year -- a pretty spot-on description, in my opinion. So make sure to swing by and catch a movie this year, whether it’s a hilarious comedy, an emotional documentary, or just a weird avant-garde narrative – the Festival runs from July 26 to 31, and there are plenty of options!

For more information, tickets and trailers, you can visit the Festival’s website. There's even a handy guide you can download. Happy watching!