April 17, 2024

Michael Moore brings back T.C.‘s State Theatre

Nov. 14, 2007
In the spring of 2005, Michael Moore was enjoying lunch with friends at Amical in Traverse City. The group was discussing the development of the Traverse City Film Festival (TCFF) and possible locations for screenings of the various films Moore hoped to bring in. Ideas flowed freely from church base-ments to elementary school classrooms. After lunch, Moore and some of his party began walking across Front Street,
when the marquee of The State Theatre caught his eye.
“I stopped and looked at it and said, ‘Hey, why don’t we show movies there?’ Well, I was told that the building was essentially condemned, and that it didn’t have a screen or projection equipment,” said Moore. So I asked again, ‘Why don’t we show movies in there?’ I was told that it would be ‘impossible.’ I then proceeded to ask how we could get in, and was told that DDA Director Bryan Crough had a key. So I called him, he gave us a tour and the rest, as they say, is history.”
Well, sort of. When the Traverse City State Theatre reopens to the public in a grand way on November 17, what for years seemed to be impossible, will have become a reality.
Then again, Michael Moore is driven by the impossible.

During that first TCFF, Moore asked those who attended screenings at The State Theatre, “Hey, isn’t this great, wouldn’t it be great to have this open year-round to show movies?” Each time the response was the same: a standing ovation and a chorus of cheers.
So Moore set out to again accomplish what appeared to be the impossible; procuring The State Theatre from Rotary Charities of Traverse City, the theatre’s owners. The complex was of interest to developers, who sought financial opportunities from tearing down the theatre, but Moore was determined. And after a year and a half of negotiations with Rotary, a deal was reached last May, and the TCFF took ownership of The State on August 1, right during the middle of this year’s festival.
“We told festival goers that we were going to reopen The State this year with a release of a major film and a red carpet type event,” said Moore.
But that “impossible” word started creeping around again as the end of September was nearing. It looked as if reopening The State this year might not happen. Some were telling Moore that it would take six months to a year to complete the renovations.
“Then I watched Ken Burns’ WWII documentary, and they were showing the Willow Run Plant and I thought I heard them say they were making fighter jets at the rate of one every 63 minutes. And I thought, that can’t be right - it must be one every 67 days. But with the magic of TiVo, I replayed it, and sure enough, they were producing these fighter jets one every 63 minutes,” said Moore. “I said to myself, if our parents and grandparents could do that, we certainly should be capable of renovating a theater in six weeks.”
Moore wants to take his point a step further.
“I began thinking that the generations before us were all about the American work ethic. They were about making things happen, like building the Empire State Building in a year,” said Moore. “Somewhere we lost some of that. My father’s generation was about pulling together for the common good; they were the original ‘Git-’R-Done’ people. I adopted that mindset when we started work fulltime on this project on October 11, with the idea that in six weeks, we are going to pull off what we were told would take six months to a year to complete.”
Moore was insistent on conducting our interview in the center of the construction activity. These everyday working guys are his kind of people; he draws energy from their presence. Moore is grateful for their commitment and the sense of challenge they feel to accomplish what seems to be the impossible.
“It is amazing that we are in the middle of hunting season in Northern Michigan, and we have guys busting their butts to get this done,” said Moore. “So many people are making this possible; contractors and sub-contractors just billing us labor costs, and no profit mark up. Architect Michael Fitzhugh completely donated his services. And then there are the numerous volunteers that have been coming in each night to clean and paint.”
One of the sub-contractors approaches and thanks Moore for making a phone call.
“I am the phone guy around here,” Moore explains. “It is the best way I can help. When the carpet guy told me that the carpet mill said it would take months to get what we wanted, I said, let me call them. So I call people and ask them to get things done on our behalf.”
Sort of like when you were making Sicko, and you called insurance companies and they quickly responded to the claims that you were calling them on?
Moore interrupts and chuckles.
“No, no - I don’t want people to be scared of me when I call,” said Moore. “I just wanted to explain to the guy at the carpet mill what we are trying to accomplish up here and the sense of urgency. Once I did that, he was like, ‘We will get right on it,’ and a couple of weeks later, the carpet was here.”

When pressed further about his “industry influence” and its impact on this project, Moore smiles and responds that it certainly isn’t hurting.
“My success as a filmmaker has helped. For example, Deluxe Film Labs of Hollywood has donated a couple hundred thousand dollars in state of the art equipment,” said Moore. “The film studios have donated all of the films at no cost for the weekend to help.”
So are these companies essentially “buttering you up” for future considerations? After all, that’s the way it works, right?
“You might say that. But I think it is important to look at who is benefitting from this, that being the people of Northern Michigan,” said Moore. “Downtown Traverse City is the winner here, as this project will have a tremendous economic impact on this community.”
Moore is used to the questions and the skepticism over his possible motives, but he says after three successful TCFFs, and now the restoration of The State Theatre as a year-round art house for Northern Michigan, those types of questions are disappearing. They have been replaced instead with people who may not agree with him politically, but nevertheless are asking how they might help.
“People who hate me have been conditioned to do so, or have been told to do so by Rush Limbaugh and Fox News. Both have created a fictitious Michael Moore for people to hate. These people have not seen my movies, they have never met me and they don’t know the real me,” said Moore. “But the TCFF has never been about my political beliefs. It has been about my belief that people want to see great movies. When my parents’ generation headed off to build those fighter planes at the rate of one every 63 minutes, they didn’t care who was standing next to them, what their political or religious beliefs were. It was simply about coming together for the common good. That is what this has been about from the start, and we have seen people of differing views, beliefs, and backgrounds rallying together to make all of this possible.”

His sense of humor begins to show through when pressed further about his motivations for the TCFF and The State Theatre project.
“What do people think I am doing this for? Certainly not for the money. Do they think I am doing this to get chicks?” chuckles Moore, who has been married for years to Kathleen Glynn. “If there is anything that is self-serving about this it is that as a filmmaker, I have a motivation for films to be shown in the right setting. It is what I want for my films as well, and what I believe every filmmaker wants. That is why this will be a tech-free zone - no laptops, no Blackberrys, no beepers - and we don’t even want to see cell phones on silent with blinking lights. We will have ushers to insure that everyone is able to enjoy the movies shown here. “I believe we have an obligation to create a comfortable setting for enjoying movies, as they should be seen on the large screen. In recent years many have stopped going to movie theaters because there is a lack of movie house etiquette, that won’t be the case here at The
State Theatre.”
As for raising the funds necessary to renovate and operate The State, Moore says he is using conservative principles, such as “spending only the money we have and not going into debt to make it happen.” He also knows that Northern Michigan is very generous and is called upon often to support many worthy causes.
“I have conducted somewhat of a silent fundraising campaign to make this happen. I asked for an angel over a year ago, and Buzz Wilson stepped forward,” said Moore. “I feel that there is a fundraising fatigue in this community and people have been ‘over-asked,’ so we are doing this without a formal campaign. I have been personally calling on friends.”
In addition to Moore and Wilson, Richard and Diana Milock of Torch Lake, The Herington Fitch Foundation, and a person wishing to remain anonymous have collectively contributed $600,000 in recent months. Moore expects another $100,000 to come in from the opening weekend ceremonies. And he remains busy seeking out another couple of angels who might be willing to contribute the final $150,000 to complete the renovations, in what will be only $850,000 in restoration costs versus the three to nine million dollars people kept telling Moore it would be.
“We have given this place a complete makeover, making it handicapped-accessible, putting in comfortable chairs, giving everyone plenty of leg room, new bathrooms, a concession area, state of the art projection, screen and sound system,” said Moore. “All while maintaining the feel of the theater’s past. I think the community is going to be pleasantly surprised.”
Equally important to Moore and others is the sustainability of The State.
“We are creating a sustaining fund to make sure that The State never meets this fate of uncertainty in the future,” said Moore. “We are going to create an annual membership program to help with this.”

Michael Moore has taken a respite from his filmmaking work to oversee the restoration of The State Theatre, so what is next–renovating the Park Place?
“Funny,” he bounces back. “Look, we all make mistakes (referring to the Park Place hosting what was billed as the “Anti-Michael Moore Film Festival” in 2005), including me and you. They didn’t know what they were getting into when they did what they did,” said Moore. “I am a practicing Catholic, and forgiveness is a big part of my faith, so it is time to move on; and that is why we are having the post opening night ceremonies at the Top of the Park.”
Okay - then what is really next for you?
“I will serve as the artistic director here, selecting the films that will be shown. I should mention that we are seeking a fulltime paid theater manager, and are currently in a nationwide search. In the meantime, Eric Weinrib, from my production team, is handling those responsibilities.”
Moore, who with Fahrenheit 9/11, Sicko and Bowling For Columbine, has three of the top five grossing documentaries of all-time - not to mention his book, Stupid White Men, selling more than 3 million copies and climbing to the top of the
New York Times best sellers’ list, is certainly in demand.
“I do have a book due to my publisher next year. It is tentatively titled You Voted For Bush and I Love You. I will also start work on my new documentary,” said Moore. “I am working on the logistics of it, and hope to be able to film it here in Northern Michigan to give this area the experience, and to train people here in the art of filmmaking. But there are some challenges, so we will see.”
Challenges? What challenges could possibly be tougher than pulling together a major film festival in a couple months time and restoring an old movie theater in six weeks?

For more information on The State Theater and the Traverse City Film Festival, visit www.traversecityfilmfest.org.

State Theatre Opening Ceremonies: A Mini Film Festival

By Rick Coates

The buzz in recent weeks around Traverse City and really Northern Michigan has been about the reopening of The State Theatre. Those in the know are fully aware that in other communities renovating an old movie theatre has fueled the economic renaissance for those downtowns. Just ask Cleveland what happened to them in the 1970’s when they saved and renovated their State Theatre.
Part of that buzz also includes all of the pomp and circumstance surrounding the reopening gala on Saturday November 17. Such as what the movie would be, what celebrities would come to town, and would Michael Moore trade in his sweat pants, T-shirt and ball cap for a tuxedo and top hat? During his interview Michael Moore shared his insights on all of this.
“The real star on opening night is The State Theatre,” said Moore. “This community has proven this by virtually selling out the opening night event without knowing what the opening film was going to be and without the knowledge of any Hollywood celebrities in attendance. There will be some surprise guests, but all of them will be overshadowed by The State Theatre that night.”
The selection of the opening night film has taken many twists and turns for Moore.
“I looked at several films and hoped to go with August Rush but they had a print issue and the film is not ready for viewing,” said Moore, “I selected The Kite Runner, and I’m excited to announce that the author Khaled Hosseini will be in for the premiere of the film. There is a possibility some of the actors will attend as well.”
One thing that has been important to Moore from the start of all of this has been to make The State Theatre accessible to all and especially the opening night. A lottery system was incorporated for a chance to participate in the viewing of the opening night film for only $10.00. The “Starry, Starry Night” activities that include a cocktail reception, dinner at the City Opera House, prime seating for the film and a post film reception at the Top of The Park Place range in price from $100 to $1,000 a ticket. But Moore didn’t want the celebration to end in one night.
“What has been created here is essentially a mini film festival with an opportunity for everyone to participate in this opening,” said Moore. “What started out as a one day event has now become four days, with a film premiere making its national or at least Michigan debut each night. This has all been made possible by the studios who have donated these film showings to us and no cost to The State Theatre.”
When Moore learned that Grand Funk Railroad had reunited at The State Theatre during the mid-‘90s to rehearse for what would be their final tour with the original members he found it very synergistic.
“That is so cool, because I grew up in Flint and when Grand Funk hit it big, it told the rest of us that people from Flint could actually make it to the big time,” said Moore. “That band served as a motivation to so many of us in Flint.”
While Moore has made it on to the international stage, accepting several awards on many stages around the world, it will be the stage of The State Theatre on November 17th that might be the most emotional moment for this boy from the Buick City. See, Moore found his inspiration for movies and filmmaking as a kid growing up in Flint, seeing movies in great old theatres like this one. As he steps onto The State Theatre stage, he will have a whole mosiac of emotions and inspirations from his career run through him.
As for what he will be wearing that evening he laughs, “we will just have to wait and see.”

Tickets for films at the State Theatre (with the exception of special events) will be $8.00 for adults, $7.00 for seniors and $6.00 for those 12 and under. During the opening ceremonies, Moore will announce a special Friends of the State Theatre membership program that will allow for discounted admissions to even an “all access pass” that will get a person into every film.

Saturday November 17th: Starry, Starry Night with the showing of The Kite Runner. (see Traverse City Film Festival website at www.traversecityfilmfest.org for schedule of activities - most are currently sold out and there is a waiting list)

Sunday November 18th: Community Open House Noon to 5 pm with tours on the hour each hour. Viewing of Academy Award Winning Films (movie shorts). No Charge. Atonement starring Kiera Knightley and James McAvoy will premiere at 8 pm with regular pricing.

Monday November 19th: The day will feature movies from 1916 including Intolerence, the very first film shown at The Lyric (the name of Theatre before The State). Other films will be shown and the cost will be 15 cents the price of admission in 1916. Margot At The Wedding, starring Nicole Kidman, Jack Black, and Jennifer Jason Leigh will make its Michigan premiere at 8 pm with regular ticket pricing.

Tuesday November 20th: The day will feature films from 1949 including It Happens Every Spring, Adams Rib, and Third Man, with tickets 35 cents (the price for movies during this week in 1949; weekend prices were 50 cents in those days). I am Not There starring Christian Bale, Cate Blanchett, Marcus Carl Franklin, Richard Gere, Ben Whishaw, and Heath Ledger (all playing Bob Dylan( will make its premeire at 8 pm with regular ticket pricing.

Wednesday November 21th: Lord of the Rings Marathon, with all three films being shown back to back. Tickets are $5.00 for each film, or $10.00 to view all three. The first film will begin at 1 pm.

Thanksgiving Weekend: The State Theatre will be open with a first run film over the holiday weekend. Check out the November 22 issue of the Northern Express for a list of the films to be shown in the coming weeks and an article on the history of The State Theatre by Rick Coates.


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