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"We didn’t know if we’d be back." TCFF receives nearly $1M in COVID aid

Traverse City Film Fest
The State Theater and Bijou by the Bay have been closed since Michigan's shutdown last year.

The Traverse City Film Festival has received $933,000 in federal coronavirus relief to help restart its two movie theaters and continue its annual film festival.

The festival's founder filmmaker Michael Moore says without the grant, the organization may have folded.

“I would say without any hint of hyperbole here that this million dollar grant from our federal government has literally saved the Traverse City Film Fest and our theaters,” he says.

The northern Michigan festival attracts film makers from around the world, bringing in around $20 million dollars to the local economy and supporting two independent movie theaters.

But since the pandemic hit Michigan, the iconic cinemas have been closed, even after the governor lifted restrictions for indoor theaters.

Behind the scenes the organization struggled with years of debt, internal disputes and infrastructure problems, including flooding from the Boardman River and boiler issues at the State Theater.

Moore says the grant will be used to repair the building damage and improve air circulation in the theaters.

“It will cover any of a number of things all the way from reopening costs, paying staff. We will be debt free,” he says.

Moore says the theaters avoided total shutdown because of community members who chipped in to cover bills. He says 20 families each took on a month’s worth of costs, with the additional help of small gifts from hundreds of community members.

“I’m so grateful that people kept us alive,” he says.

Moore says staff will meet after the July 4 holiday to determine when the theaters will reopen. He says the Bijou by the Bay theater may open in August or September, hopefully with more of the region vaccinated.

He also says they may have a mini film festival in the winter, potentially over a long holiday weekend.

Taylor Wizner covers heath, tourism and other news for Interlochen Public Radio.