houses at the 600-seat State Theatre throughout the week.
At a pre-festival party, co-founder and Oscar-winning filmmaker Michael Moore said the event had sold 15,000 advance tickets before it opened, an unparalleled feat for a first-time film festival and the envy of directors everywhere.
Perhaps even more amazing was the fact that the festival was organized in a mere two months. Author Doug Stanton who also co-founded the event with Traverse City photographer John Robert Williams, said that he and Moore had discussed the possibility of a film festival for several years but was astounded when the filmmaker decided to move ahead with the idea in May with virtually no staff or funding.
Then too, the dilapidated State Theatre had languished for years in a state of disrepair, with local promises to refurbish the building going nowhere.
Support came quickly, however, with more than 100 area businesses turning out to sponsor the event and scores of volunteers materializing to spruce up the State (the theater also benefited from an “anonymous“ donation by Moore) And although the festival‘s all-volunteer organization suffered much in the way of infighting, turf wars and resignations, somehow the show managed to go on.
Politics went by the wayside, with filmgoers seeming resolute to accept Moore‘s promise that the event would be about enjoying good films rather than whipping up controversy. When a sailboat went past the Open Space showing of “Jaws“ with the far-right counter film festival promoted on its sails, it was greeted with a mixture of boos and yawns from the crowd of more than 6,000.
No one seemed more surprised by the level of acceptance from Traverse City‘s largely Republican business community than Michael Moore. Speaking at the opening night showing of “Mad Hot Ballroom,“ he said he never dreamed two months ago that conservative talk radio station WTCM-AM would sign on as a sponsor. He also thanked Republican State Rep. Kevin Elsenheimer (R-Bellaire) for supporting the festival in a courageous local newspaper column. Former Republican Gov. Bill Milliken and his wife Helen received thanks for sponsoring one of the festival‘s major events.
“That‘s the great thing about America,“ Moore told the crowd on opening night. “Although we may disagree at times and have different ideas and backgrounds, we can still come together to make good things happen.“
-- by Robert Downes
The ‘Other‘ Film Festival...
in Harbor Springs
It‘s the Blissfest‘s four-part Irish Film Fest, which kicks off at the Harbor Springs Middle School Cafeteria on Wednesday August 4. Irish music and a brief introductory lecture begins the evenings program at 7:15 p.m.
Irish films dealing with famine, revolution and emigration will be shown each Wednesday night during August, including “The Great Hunger,“ “Captain Lightfoot,“ “Out of Ireland“ and “Beloved Enemy,“ leading up to the Harbor Celtic Festival to be held August 26-27 at Zorn Park.