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Updated 9:00 AM September 7, 2009

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U-M students premiere films at Traverse City festival

U-M film students and recent graduates came from as far away as Los Angeles and New York recently to gather in the "green room" backstage at the Traverse City Opera House. That the room wasn't truly green was lost on them. They were quite content, if not giddy, simply sitting in the proverbial waiting room.
Traverse City film Festival founder Michael Moore (center, in cap) talks with festival-goers outside a Traverse City theater. Below, former Michigan Gov. William Milliken and his wife, Helen, attended the festival. (Photos by Frank Provenzano)

There was food — plenty. There was palpable excitement and anxiety — in abundance. And the cramped backstage resounded with the sharp wit and repartee of the talented group, together for the first time since April, when two short films made during their Screen Arts and Cultures 427 class played before a campus audience.

The 13 young filmmakers traveled to the shores of Grand Traverse Bay for the public premiere of "All Is Lost" and "Worthy," shown at the Traverse City Film Festival, which ended Aug. 2.

The films represent the first-act — about 25-30 minutes — of full-length screenplays. "All Is Lost" is based on the aftermath of a campus shooting, and "Worthy" explores the ambivalence of a female figure skater. It was written by former competitive skater-turned-screenwriter Amanda Adelson.

For fledgling screenwriters, directors, actors, sound and camera students, the only things missing from the midday premiere were floodlights, a red carpet and an entertainment news reporter. After the screening, a nearly full theater gave rousing applause, and offered encouragement and admiration for the filmmakers at a post-showing discussion.

"It's a long way from film concept to seeing the words of a script come alive," says Jim Burnstein, coordinator of screenwriting at the Department of Screen Arts and Cultures. He and Robert Rayher, who oversaw production of the films, taught SAC 427, which includes select students who have written an original screenplay with "potential" to be produced.

"We wanted to go beyond the university and show the depth and breadth of this talented work to the public," Burnstein says. "(Festival co-founder) Michael Moore welcomed us, and we responded to a great opportunity. It's an experience of a lifetime."

The fifth annual festival showed signs of gaining popularity.

An estimated 96,000 people attended the six-day festival, a nearly 15-percent increase from last year's attendance. On the last day of the festival, documentary filmmaker Moore teased audiences with a three-minute trailer of his latest work, "Capitalism: A Love Story," scheduled to be released in early October.

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