By Rick Coates
Academy Award-winning film producer Michael Moore is never at a loss
of words. The co-founder of the Traverse City Film Festival took time
out in the wee hours of the morning to sit down for a two-hour
interview, sharing his insights on not only the Film Festival but also
President Obama, the future of Michigan, the state of Downtown
Traverse City and the new Comedy Festival. Moore also discussed his
own future and how he almost threw in the towel on living here in
Northern Michigan to move to Ann Arbor.
Here is a synopsis on the interview. To read the complete
transcript go to the feature archive at www.northernexpress.com
Northern Express: There are just over 80 films at this years Festival
and you watched 500 to make your selections. How do you find the time?
Michael Moore: I started right after last years Film Festival and try
and watch one film a day. If the film sucks so bad after a half hour,
I am not going to watch another half an hour. But also I dont stop
after three minutes -- I always give a film 30 minutes. I have a
theory about opening credits and the first song, it is like the first
date. This is the very first thing they are offering the audience, if
they dont take the time to make this great in the first 10 minutes
then you know the rest of the date probably isnt going to be the
NE: Okay, some films have sold right out, others have been slow to
sell. What in your opinion should have sold out right away and has
Moore: There are a few, some of it has to do with timing of great
films going against other great films. But if one stands out it is
Rush: Behind The Lighted Stage. This is a great film about a great
band. If you are a Rush fan this is a must, but even if you have never
heard of this band you will like this film. Also, the shorts films
have not been selling as well as they should be. I think people do
not understand the concept; these are great films. Also the John
Lennon film on opening night didnt sell out and The Kids Are All
Right did. The Lennon film is excellent. I chose two opening films
this year and I think some people think this is a second film, but it
is equal billing and a lot of festivals have two or more opening night
NE: What has surprised you most about this Festival after six years?
Moore: That a rural area like Northern Michigan -- a fairly
conservative area -- has been excited and open to trying something
new, like watching a film from Vietnam or Iran. To meeting filmmakers
from 10,000 miles away, to being willing to watch films with
subtitles. To watching non-fiction films. Hollywood has no interest in
shipping films to places like Traverse City of a foreign or
non-fiction nature. Now, they believe people in the flyover area
between NY and LA are not sophisticated enough and are not interested
in films that treat cinema as an art form. What this festival has
proven is there is a market for these types of films, not only here
but in all the Traverse Cities of the country.
NE: What has disappointed you the most since starting the Festival?
Moore: I am still trying to break through a value system that is
different from where I come from. Much of it has to do with money. For
instance, I asked Deb Lake (Film Festival Manager) why do you think
the quality of trailers (the homemade submissions shown before films)
is better this year than last year? She responded because we are
offering prize money this year. That sat with me all day. I have
never made a film for the money. When I made my first film, Roger &
Me, I was unemployed, collecting $96 a week, and made that film to
make a difference for my community. Okay, a radio station sent me a
letter saying they were happy to be a part of the Festival and had
provided a donation of $23,000 in air time and they were essentially
looking for what the Film Festival was going to give them in exchange.
I thought wow, wait a minute: this Film Festival is what we are giving
you, this is a gift to the community that is making this a better
place to live for us and our kids. So that is my biggest
disappointment that after six years not everyone gets what this is all
about. Fortunately that is just the minority.
NE: In this economy, how has the sponsorship for the Festival been for
Moore: There has been no drop; in fact we sold out of $1,000 film
sponsorships right away. People have come to me because of these tough
economic times concerned about the Festival and wanting to make sure
that it is not in jeopardy. So people have stepped up. What has
dropped has been the working people who a couple of years ago could
afford the $50 Friends of the Festival membership cant now. I am
looking to change this. One of the things I said in the first year is
we do not believe in the principle of the velvet rope of keeping the
proletariat back and letting only the wealthy to have access to this
NE: Has there been any sort of study to show the economic impact the
Festival has on the region?
Moore: No, not an official study, but based on industry standards the
State Theatre is bringing in $5 million a year. I think that when you
equate that formula to the Film Festival we are somewhere in the
neighborhood of $10 million annually. I am hesitant to put a number on
this -- I dont have to sell this to the community -- everyone knows
what this Festival does. What I am most proud of is that we have kept
tickets affordable at $9.50 a ticket. Everyone can at least afford a
couple of movies.
NE: Okay lets change direction and give us your assessment of Obamas
first two years in office and how do you think the country is handling
Moore: Well he and his administration have broken faith with that
massive energized base that he had. He got caught up with cant we
all get along? and trying to be bipartisan and the people didnt
elect a bipartisan anything -- they elected a Democratic president,
Senate and House and made it very clear that they wanted Democrats
running things, not Republicans or a Republican/Democrat blend. He won
by over 10 million votes, not the 500,000 Gore won by in 2000. What
part of victory did Obama not understand?
Dont give us health care lite, Wall Street reform lite. We sent him
there to fix it now; if he doesnt, he and the Democrats are not going
to return to office. People are not going to keep blaming Bush for the
next four years. Okay, people have said Bush sucked, but we brought
you in to fix it, so fix it.
But I am standing by him; he has been under such crazy attacks from
the other side, racist attacks. My advice to him is to listen to your
heart and do what the voters elected you to do.
NE: Okay, primary next week in Michigan -- any comments?
Moore: I think the mayor of Lansing (Virg Bennero) will bring a new
perspective. Governor Granholm inherited such a mess from Governor
Engler. No one person was going to fix that mess. The economy got
worse. The problem in this state is much larger than one person can
The problem is this: Michigan is sinking fast down the toilet and we
need leadership, we need bold fresh ideas, new thinking, and we all
need to quit deluding ourselves into thinking that the rescue party is
coming. They are not on their way -- they rode on their horses past
Michigan. They are not coming here ever, so we have to save ourselves.
You know what? We have been pretty good at doing that in the past.
When you think what this state has given this world, we put the world
on wheels, it had been invented 50,000 years earlier but we figured
out how to put people on them: guys like Thomas Edison changed the
world. Berry Gordy, Kellogg and other inventors changed the world. I
believe that Henry Fords are still with us today but we do not have a
system in place to nurture them. This is not just the Great Lakes
State, this is the Great State. We are the state that gave the country
the good Republican party; yes the Republican party was started in
Jackson to free the slaves. I believe we can do that again and we just
need people to step up and be bold.
NE: What are you working on now?
Moore: Not saying.
NE: A clue?
Moore: Not saying, just that I am working on some things is all that
you are going to get.
NE: How is the Traverse City Comedy Festival coming for this winter?
Moore: Ive got a couple of problems. I dont have enough room for all
the comedians that want to come in. Last years Festival was so
successful that the comedians went back and told everyone; now all
these great comedians want to come to Traverse City in the middle of
winter. It is unbelievable. I cant announce anything yet, but we are
taking it to the next level with some big names. Look for details in a
For a complete transcript of the two-hour Michael Moore interview go
to www.northernexpress.com. Moore describes how he almost moved from
Northern Michigan because of hateful attacks, he weighs in on the USDA
firing of an employee for a sound bite on FOX News that misrepresented
her. He talks about John Hughes, this years Michigan Filmmaker of the
Year, and answers the question if he is the money behind the new
complex on the corner of Front and Park Street in Downtown Traverse