Film festival brings dollars, but how many?

TRAVERSE CITY – When Academy Award-winning filmmaker and northern Michigan resident Michael Moore announced that Traverse City would be hosting its own film festival and that he would be heading it, he was confronted with his fair share of skeptics. Doubts were put to rest when the 1st Annual Traverse City Film Festival experienced an overwhelming success, putting Traverse City on the map for culture rather than agriculture, bringing the community together and contributing to the area's economy.

In its first year, the Traverse City Film Festival received more than 50,000 admissions and lured movie fans from all over Michigan, Illinois, Ohio and Canada. It is estimated that more than $1 million dollars was pumped into local businesses during the Festival, which proved to be more successful than the infamous Sundance Film Festival in its first year. One local newspaper described last year's festival as "The best thing to happen since the Ice Age left us Lake Michigan."

Film festivals in small towns like Traverse City have increased across the nation in the past few years, proving to be not only a great way to attract dollars and movies that would otherwise not be viewed in such small locales, but also a great way to bring the community together for the timeless tradition of cinema.

One such community, Bend, Ore., approximately the size of Grand Traverse County, will hold its third film festival this October. Bend is a rapidly growing community and tourist destination similar to Traverse City with its historic downtown district and picturesque location. In its two year history, the BendFilm Festival has seen "rapid growth and its popularity has exceeded most expectations, and has attracted a predominantly regional (and in some instances, national) audience to Bend for the festival," according to Festival Public Relations Director Justin Yax. "At the same time, it is also an event that is hugely popular with the local audience, and was created in part to bring culture to our growing community."

Back in Traverse City, our film festival has not only brought culture, but has contributed to the city's economy. The question is…how much? A Film Festival press release states simply that "with its 50,000 admissions in summer 2005, the festival added significantly to the local economy."

It's difficult to calculate an exact number on just how much money was pumped into the community, though research shows that "cultural travelers" spend more on average than the average U.S. traveler. Cultural travelers spend more money per trip ($615) than the average U.S. traveler ($425), stay longer per trip (4.7 nights compared to 3.3 nights), and are more likely to engage in shopping activities (45 percent compared to 33 percent).

According to Traverse City Area Chamber of Commerce President Doug Luciani, it's about more than just the money, however.

"I can't think of a better example of a way to grow businesses and build the community," said Luciani. "If we didn't already have it, the reality is, we'd be spending hundreds of hours to find a way to get it."

The 2006 Traverse City Film Festival will see minor changes from last year's event. While the venues will stay the same (the State Theatre, Open Space, City Opera House, and the Old Town Playhouse), the event will take place July 31 through August 6, with six full days of movies compared to last year's five day event. There will be a 50 percent increase in screenings this year, with nearly 50 films scheduled to be shown.

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