Postcard: Free Movies and Sunsets at Open Space, Traverse City Film Festival

Traverse City, MI – It didn’t matter that I failed to bring a chair to “test night” at last week’s Traverse City Film Fest. Even for an introvert like me, it was near impossible not to get up and dance through a big-screen showing of “Stop Making Sense,” a joy-factory of a rock movie released in 1984, whose score sent me hurtling right back into my mid-teens obsession with all things David Byrne and Talking Heads.

Stop Making Sense TCFF
Stop Making Sense TCFF

The 88-minute plein-air dance workout has become a tradition in the past few years at the 15-year-old film festival co-founded by irascible documentary director Michael Moore. He was born in Flint, and was also a driving force behind raising money and friends to bring back the historic State Theatre downtown in 2007.

The State offers a 25-cent classic movie matinee on Wednesdays, a price that opens up the budget for popcorn and candy considerably.

Likewise, free films are screened at dusk every night of the festival at Open Space, a soft, lush lawn on the Lake Michigan waterfront. The blow-up white big screen is framed by a proscenium arch of painted sunset-on-lake, shifting mid-feature to visibly starry night.

According to Moore, the TCFF mission is “showing ‘Just Great Movies’ and helping to save one of America’s few indigenous art forms – the cinema.”

I have spent much of my summer in Traverse City, so even before the festival started, I knew locals enjoyed a serious film culture. As an itinerant, I am a library super-user, so I had stumbled across the Traverse City Public Library’s ‘Sight and Sound’ department, and was I ever in awe. The library has one of the most comprehensive, really deep and rich collections of music I have seen anywhere, including every record store I’ve ever been to. What’s more, you can check out instruments like a banjo, a theramin and a ukelele! And a telescope! My much younger self is deeply jealous.

And we haven’t even gotten to the library’s film collection or wall o’ pop cultural memorabilia.

Aaron Olson, Sight and Sound Manager and co-curator, and founder of Cinema Curiosa, an arthouse film series that predates the Traverse City Film Festival by six years.

Sight and Sound is curated by three librarians, (all men I should note, since my post from Central Lake Library made the observation that most cool librarians I encounter are women.)

Traverse City Film Festival
Silver screen homage uplit on local shop during Traverse City Film Festival 2019.

Six years before Moore came on the scene, Sight and Sound Manager Aaron Olson and his team launched an arthouse film series called Cinema Curiosa, which Olson recalled this way in his bio on the TADL website:

“Back in 2001, there were no theatres that screened independent or documentary cinema in Traverse City. At that time, the State Theatre was shut down and we only had the Carmike Cinema at the Grand Traverse Mall which featured the mainstream popular movies. So we created Cinema Curiosa, which screens a documentary or independent film typically on the first Friday on the month in the McGuire Community Room, after the library is closed. And, the best part is that there’s no charge to attend. Since its inception, we’ve screened over eighty films.”

Aaron Olson, Manager of Sight and Sound Dept., Traverse City District Library
  • Sight and Sound movie memorabilia
  • Sight and Sound Department TADL

Last year the library began offering its patrons access to Kanopy, a streaming subscription for classic and arthouse films, which would all but obviate the need for the Cinema Curiosas of the world were it not for the irreplaceable shared experience that comes from watching a film with other people, and, in the best movies, becoming one with our laughter and our tears.

Watching Return of the Jedi, this time be-blanketed and ensconced in my comfy tilting recliner, was one of those times you could feel the audience come together, especially during the iconic crawling-text opening and during the battle scenes. For many of us, who saw it on the big screen when it came out in the theater in 1983, the movie generated as much nostalgia as entertainment. We knew the plot by heart (and thus when it was safe to crouch-walk to the bathroom) and had no problem taking a break from the onscreen action to goggle the stars.


The Traverse City Film Festival is finished for the year, but you can still check out the historic State Theater for a 25-cent Wednesday morning matinee! You can also head to the library, check out the flicks, noodle on the theramin and listen through headphones to what looks to be every John Coltrane track ever recorded!

Repeat my State Theatre experience:

Combined website of the State and Bijou Theatres:

State Theatre
233 E. Front St.
Traverse City MI 49684

Bijou by the Bay
181 E. Grandview Parkway
Traverse City MI 49684

Recreate my Sight and Sound experience
Traverse Area District Library

Sight and Sound Department

610 Woodmere Ave.
Traverse City, MI 49686
(231) 932-8500

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