Traverse City News and Events

Meet Traverse City Film Festival’s New Director

By Beth Milligan | April 18, 2018

The Traverse City Film Festival (TCFF) has a new executive director – an industry veteran festival founder Michael Moore says has the right background to move TCFF, the State Theatre, and the Bijou by the Bay into their “second phase” of growth.

Joseph Beyer, 45, moved to Traverse City from Los Angeles this past weekend ahead of a Tuesday start date. A Michigan native – he was born in Grand Haven and grew up in Holland – Beyer received his Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from the University of Evansville before moving to LA to work at film industry public relations firm mPRm and later Warner Brothers. From 2002 to 2016, Beyer worked for the Sundance Institute, which puts on the Sundance Film Festival. His most recent Sundance position was director of digital initiatives, leading strategy, creative development, and operation of digital content, social media, and special Institute projects. Those included launching Sundance’s Artist Services program – which helps connect independent filmmakers with audiences – along with the Short Film Challenge with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and a first-ever collaboration between Sundance and Kickstarter, which raised over $18 million for more than 300 filmmaking projects since its 2011 inception.

“Other filmmakers will tell you – he’s been a force for good for people who’ve wanted to get their films out there to the public,” Moore says of Beyer. “He comes here already having done the things I’ve only dreamed of doing here. This isn’t going to be a long learning curve or a long time of trying to figure out how to do this (job).”

After Beyer’s most recent position – as director of marketing and distribution for Robert Redford’s environmentally focused media nonprofit The Redford Center – he took a year off to travel and mull over his next career move. At the same time, Moore and the TCFF board of directors began looking for a new leader after Deb Lake stepped down in December after 13 years with the festival. (Moore declined to comment on Lake’s departure other than to say the position was “critical to the success” of the festival; a joint statement released by TCFF and Lake in December said Lake was leaving to seek other opportunities.)

Moore says TCFF board members were seeking a new leader who could “maintain the incredible thing we have invented here and keep it a filmmakers’ festival” while also taking TCFF and its theaters into their next stage of development. As board members began reaching out to industry contacts for leads, Moore mentioned to Russ Collins – executive director of Ann Arbor’s Michigan Theater – that TCFF was searching for a new executive director. Within 24 hours, Collins was chatting in line with Beyer at Sundance – and mentioned the opportunity to him. From there, the pieces began to quickly fall into place to recruit Beyer to Traverse City, according to Moore.

Moore shared with The Ticker two major new initiatives he hopes Beyer will assist in bringing to life at TCFF. The first is what the filmmaker refers to as the “State Theatre Project,” an effort to help other communities across the state and country open their own art house theaters in a similar model as the State Theatre. Moore has already worked with Manistee, Frankfort, and Elk Rapids to help revive or restore their historic theaters; he hopes to expand the program further. “One of my goals is that every week you’d see some delegation at the State from another town coming here to study how we did this and how they can do it for themselves,” Moore says. Beyer expresses excitement about the program, saying research has made it “super clear” that communities operating a “healthy, functional, community-based theater” see a direct positive economic impact from such facilities.

The second project – which Moore unofficially describes as “Movie Night Across America” – would involve broadcasting films simultaneously to theaters across the country, similar to how the Metropolitan Opera broadcasts its performances to the State and other theaters. “Wouldn’t it be something if we could curate a year-round festival via satellite, where we could beam a film into a thousand theaters across the country,” explains Moore. “It’d be a live experience where the director or stars are there, I or others introduce them and do an audience Q&A, and the audiences across the country are able to text or tweet their questions to the filmmakers live. We have this great experience (at TCFF) every year, but I don’t want it to just be our experience. I want everybody to experience it.”

Moore says he’d ideally like to base the program out of Traverse City, but that technology upgrades – notably Traverse City Light & Power’s long-discussed plans to deploy a citywide fiber network – would be crucial to that effort. Otherwise, the program could potentially be based in New York or another location. Either way, Moore says the goal is to take the TCFF experience and bring it to a wider audience. “This town is going to be a true epicenter of cinema,” Moore says.

As for this year’s festival, scheduled for July 31-August 5 – despite the four-month absence of an executive director, Moore says everything is “right on schedule” with planning for this year’s event. “We’ve been watching movies for the last seven or eight months, and finding movies is the most important thing,” Moore says. “We were interviewing interns this and last week, we’ve got virtually all of the sponsors re-signed for this year. With Joe starting, we’ll be able to really start putting together the festival over the next six weeks.”

When asked about the future of the festival, Moore tells The Ticker he’d like to see TCFF offer a combination of special premieres and celebrity appearances, films that have premiered at other festivals but haven’t yet come to Traverse City, and “forgotten and classic films that have fallen off the radar.” He’s committed to continuing to offer “affordable and free” events at TCFF, though he expresses frustration over “hurdles that have been put up by people who want to make money off what we’re doing. It’s become difficult to get a room here. Things like that, we’re going to address.”

For his part, Beyer says he’s already met with several key festival staff members and is ready to roll up his sleeves and get to work. “I’m not going to have much free time these next couple months,” he acknowledges. “It’s a big job, and it’s more interesting and dynamic than most festival jobs because you have this (State) theater and the Bijou and all the things this organization does for the community. The first decade (of a festival) is the heaviest lifting, so now we’ve got a machine we can grow and finesse and tune. That’s what’s exciting to me.”

Beyer and Moore will appear together at a special event Sunday at 6pm at the State Theatre, a $20 benefit screening that will include a sneak peek of a new documentary that premiered at Sundance this year and an on-stage conversation between Moore and Beyer. Tickets are available at the State Theatre box office or online here. Photo credit: Traverse City Film Festival.

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