One of the summer’s major events in Northern Michigan, with visitors attending from countries all over the world, will postpone its 16th annual Traverse City Film Festival due to the precautions around the coronavirus pandemic until 2021.
Next year’s festival will be held July 27-August 1, 2021.
The festival’s year-round theaters — the historic State Theatre and the Bijou by the Bay — were shut down with all other theaters in Michigan on March 16th by order of the Governor, causing all TCFF employees to be furloughed. The Governor has not indicated when the theaters will be able to open. It is believed that theaters, arenas, and other facilities where large numbers of people gather indoors in a confined space will be the last areas to go back to “normal.”
The festival and its theaters state they are committed to being a part of the solution to curb the spread of COVID-19, as well as remaining committed to the safety of their staff, volunteers, and community.
“We know that the Traverse City community loves the movies, and we are determined to bring back films once the order is lifted and our own local health officials deem it to be safe,” said TCFF founder and president, Michael Moore. “We want to assure our community that we will work with medical professionals to open our theaters when we are allowed to do so and will follow all safety and sanitation measures, including reconfiguring our ticketing and seating to conform to the social distancing protocols. First and foremost, we will work together to keep our community safe.”
TCFF relies on ticket sales for its income. Every month theaters are closed, TCFF faces staggering losses and mounting debts.
”We have cut back everywhere we can,” said TCFF Managing Director Susan Fisher. “Even with the theaters closed there are still the bare bones monthly costs in the thousands just to maintain the buildings, equipment, and organization. The loss of year-round theater revenue and the significant loss of proceeds from this summer’s now-canceled film festival leave us in a precarious financial position.”
“The Traverse City community has always shown its support for our theaters and festival,” added TCFF Development Director Debbie Hershey. “Since 1916, the State Theatre has been an icon in Traverse City where people gather to enjoy the art of film. Our community also knows that throughout the year the TCFF organization provides over $600,000 in free or low-cost community and school events. We now must turn to this same community for help. There are easy ways to continue to support the theaters and festival. For now you can go online and become a member or donate. Soon we will present a plan for how we will reboot our theaters and festival and how you can join the movement to help us make that happen.”
”We’re trying to be creative with options to bring the State and Bijou cinema experience into people’s homes,” Moore added. “But even with those initiatives the organization will soon deplete its resources.”
The festival is keeping some virtual activities alive. Film fans can purchase exclusive streaming rentals, including some TCFF 2019 favorites, through the State and Bijou website where a small portion of the proceeds benefits the theaters.
Additionally, festival and theater staff are volunteering their time to work on new ways to bring the movies safely back to our community, including a possible pop-up drive-in, mini festival, streaming recommendations, a hunt for the oldest State Theatre ticket stub, a Live Your Movie Moment Movie Challenge, and other ideas to bring some levity and hope to the situation, including their ongoing marquee changes.
“We are sad to not be showing movies,” said TCFF Creative Director Meg Weichman, “and it won’t be an easy flip of the switch to be back up and running once COVID-19 restrictions are lifted. But if this time apart has made anything clear, it has made us appreciate the beauty and power of gathering together to experience great films all the more.”
“We’re dedicated to reopening our theaters and being an anchor of our vibrant downtown — lighting up Front Street with our sparkling marquee again,” added Fisher. “Like our neighbors, we’re trying to connect with our patrons and friends to provide whatever experiences make life seem a bit more normal. We will fight to make sure we’re there for everyone when this is over.”
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