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Traverse City Film Festival returns, scaled back and with some changes

At a Thanksgiving dinner in 2014, filmmaker Jason B. Kohl happened to meet a guide dog raised and trained inside a prison.

Always interested in finding ways to draw audiences into meaningful issues, he sensed the potential for telling a story that would speak to the problems surrounding America’s vast prison system.

This week, Kohl will present “Eli: A Dog In Prison” at the Traverse City Film Festival, which is returning to the popular northern Michigan vacation destination after a pandemic pause that lasted two years.

Kohl, who grew up in Lansing, describes his documentary (filmed at Michigan’s Macomb Correctional Facility) as “an uplifting look at three different prisoners who overcome their differences while training a rambunctious puppy to become a disciplined guide dog. At its core, the film is about the humanity that can be brought out in all of us through our connection with animals.”

A festival alum who works in Los Angeles and Europe, Kohl thinks there is something special about TCFF, its shorthand name.

“The healing is always outstanding, and the atmosphere is just so warm and filled with a deep love for cinema. I’ve screened at many major festivals in the world, and my heart always comes back to Traverse City,” he says.

A scene from the documentary

The 2022 Traverse City Film Festival is making a comeback, for sure, but it will be different from past years, much as life itself has been different since the arrival of COVID-19.

This will be a scaled-back version of the gathering, which was launched in 2005 by Oscar-winning director Michael Moore and grew from a resort-town experiment into a staple of the region’s summer calendar.

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