TRAVERSE CITY — Thousands of people flooded Traverse City this summer to catch a glimpse of the latest documentaries, comedies and dramas.
It's become routine since the Traverse City Film Festival began in 2005 under the direction of Oscar-winning filmmaker Michael Moore. But the nonprofit organization contends another festival is trying to ride its success by using a similar name.
The film festival recently sued Daniel and Laura Martone, co-directors of the Traverse City Shorts Festival, in U.S. District Court. The suit alleges federal trademark infringement, federal false designation of origin and unfair competition and trademark infringement under Michigan common law.
"Have the event, that's great, but don't call it something that's so confusing," said Deb Lake, executive director of the film festival. "They just need a different name. It's as simple as that."
The Traverse City Film Festival ran July 26-31. It screened more than 150 films and totaled about 128,000 admissions. The Traverse City Shorts Festival was scheduled to take place the same week, but the Martones pushed it back to last weekend at the Park Place Hotel.
"We moved because we were trying to play nice," Daniel Martone said. "We weren't trying to fight with them about this. We were trying to bring in 38 great films."
Martone said he doesn't know how many people attended his festival, but said four filmmakers were present. The shorts festival is established as a for-profit business, but Martone said it typically loses money on the festival.
The Martones split their time between New Orleans and Johannesburg, a community east of Gaylord. They also launched the Beverly Hills Shorts Festival and another festival in New Orleans.
Martone was taken aback by the suit and said he plans to fight it.
"We know we're not violating any trademark," he said.
An attorney for the film festival disagreed and said the suit was a "last resort."
"It's just the name," said attorney Mark Clark. "It's not competition that we're concerned about. It's simply the issue of the confusing brand. As they promote and solicit for volunteers or monetary support for their enterprise, we don't want it to be confused with the Traverse City Film Festival because the Traverse City Film Festival is not involved."
The shorts festival sought local sponsors, and Martone said it was made clear that his event was not affiliated with the city's more established film festival.
"We said that we are not the film festival," said Martone, who added that his festival is submission-based. "We explained how our festival was different."
Lake said she's been approached by film festival sponsors, volunteers and patrons about the shorts festival to determine whether the two were related.
"I went to the shorts festival. I think it's a wonderful festival, but the name is extremely confusing," she said. "This is the last thing we want is to be filing lawsuits, but you have to protect your name."
Martone said he wants to stage another shorts festival in Traverse City next year.
"The whole reason for doing this festival was to show Traverse City, as an amazing resort town, some great short films that they otherwise would not be able to see," he said.