In the spring of 2005 Traverse City didn't quite know what it was getting itself into.
Academy Award-winning documentary film maker and Grand Travese-area resident Michael Moore, along with local photographer John Robert Williams and native son Doug Stanton, said they were going to put on a five-day film festival. They were rounding up a group of volunteers to clean up and dust off the venerable State Theatre to make it home base.
All in two months.
When it was over that first festival had drawn an impressive 50,000 admissions to 31 films at 52 screenings. There were four free panel discussions and 10 people from the film industry had shown up as guests.
Just as important, the festival had gotten good reviews from downtown merchants and local residents who all seemed willing to do it again.
By 2011, the festival had grown in size and reputation and had added a host of activities that went well beyond just great movies.
There were free movies at night on a giant screen at the Open Space.
Besides the State, venues had grown to include the city Opera House, the Old Town Playhouse, the Milliken Auditorium and Dutmers Theater at the Dennos Museum at Northwestern Michigan College, Lars Hockstad auditorium at Central Grade School and the Open Space for free movies.
There were an amazing 128,000 admissions, 156 screenings and 147 films, including 88 features and 59 shorts, from every continent but Antarctica.
There were 130 "industry guests" who took place in panel discussions and interviews.
The Dutmers Theatre for experimental film was added.
The festival paid for the renovation of Lars Hockstad Auditorium.
There was a weeklong film school.
And 2011 was the first year of the Kids Fest on the lawn outside Lars Hockstad Auditorium following movies for kids.
And since 2005 the festival has spent big bucks to totally refurbish the State and turn it into a part of daily life here. It plays host to many films that don't make it on the big-time theater circuit, it is used by all kinds of groups for movies and gatherings, it simulcasts state championship games for local school sports teams.
The theater has become, in many ways, the city's town square. Moms and dads take their kids to child-friendly matinees, high school classes and other groups host special movie nights and lots of fans turn out to cheer their teams playing in big-time venues downstate.
The State has also helped kick downtown Traverse City into a higher gear than ever before, at least in terms of nightlife and food. The theater brings people into town after dark, and new restaurants have opened to feed them. Some stores stay open longer to cater to those waiting for a movie to start. The east end of Front Street has gotten new life.
It starts all over again Tuesday, with an estimated 145 films on tap, actress Susan Sarandon and other Hollywood types, a bunch of independent movie makers, German movie legend Wim Wenders, a music stage at Clinch Park, A Rebel Without a Cause and other favorites free at the Open Space and an emphasis on films from or about Detroit.
Year after year the festival and the community have become more entwined, and the group of volunteers who swept up the State that first year has grown into a small army that makes it all happen. It truly is Traverse City's film festival.