>‘Just great movies’-an interview with Michael Moore (MNA Aug. 07)

Posted: August 9, 2007 in Interviews

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Moore’s northern Michigan film festival continues to grow
By CEAN BURGESON
Associate Editor

MANISTEE — Regardless of how you feel about filmmaker Michael Moore, you cannot doubt his passion for film. “I’m concerned about film literacy in this country,” he told the audience Thursday at opening of one of the panels at the Traverse City Film Festival. “That’s why we’re here. To help save one of America’s few indigenous art forms — the cinema.”
And there’s a large following of people who must agree with the documentary filmmaker. Over 70,000 festivalgoers attended the Fest in 2006, and even more are projected for this year’s final tally. “We’ve almost doubled what we did our first year, and we’re only in our second day,” he said on Thursday. The festival ends on Sunday.
Also increasing this year, in order to keep up with the demand, is the number of screens, number of screenings, and types of movies.
“We’ve added a new venue, the Lars Hockstad auditorium,” said Moore. “And we’ve added midnight screenings, Friday and Saturday horror movies. And we have our first full-length animated feature we’re showing here, a Japanese animated film. We’ve got a number of new things like that this year.”
The other venues for the festival are the open space outdoor cinema, the historic State Theatre, the City Opera House, and the Old Town Playhouse.
The lineup of films and panels brought to northern Michigan this time around held something for any flavor of filmophile. Among the highlights are screening of children’s and Native American films, a selection of cult-favorite horror films playing at special midnight showings, a select screening of classic films, including a 40th anniversary celebration of “The Graduate,” and a screening of “The Bridge on the River Kwai,” in honor of its 50th anniversary. There is also the regular diet of independent films, documentaries, and other gems folks might have missed which the festival is showing to audiences who will surely appreciate them.
Guests of the festival include Doug Stanton, whose novel “In Harms Way,” is under development at Warner brothers, festival board director and also director of the film “Hotel Rwanda,” Terry George, Larry Charles, who worked on “Seinfeld,” “Mad About You,” “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” and “Entourage, as well as last year’s most talked about film, “Borat,” director of the Michigan Film Office, Janet Lockwood, Moore’s wife and producer, Kathleen Glynn, Emmy award winning journalist John Laurence, Academy Award nominated director/producer Brett Morgen, film critics Chris Borelli and Tom Long of the Toledo Blade and Detroit News, independent film actress Gretchen Mol, and Oscar winning director/best supporting actress nominee, Christine Lahti, who the festival awarded this year’s Michigan Filmmaker Award.
Panel discussions with guests included talks on humor in dark times, a panel of film critics, discussions of the documentary form, a special panel on Moore’s film “Sicko,” and one entitled “Will it Play in Traverse City?”
The success of the festival and its growth seem to point to an answer of “yes” on that last question. The Traverse City Film Festival believes that people love to go to the movies, but the movies these days don’t seem to love the people, according to their mission statement. In addition to movies, Moore seems to love the people, too.
He sits in on the panels, and screenings, and asks his own questions. When people stop him on the street or talk to him after a panel discussion, he doesn’t have the Hollywood aloofness that so many other stars are afflicted with. He dresses like a regular guy, talks to you like a regular guy, and if you were from another planet and hadn’t ever heard of Moore, you would have no idea upon meeting him that he has single-handedly brought the form of documentary film into the mainstream, and is worth millions of dollars.
And more importantly over the past three years, he has brought what is becoming a growing film festival to his home state of Michigan, and included us among the Sundance, Telluride, and Cannes crowd — albeit on a slightly smaller scale.
But this smaller scale doesn’t detract from the importance of the film festival to northern Michigan. Their mission is just as important as that of any other festival, to show great movies that both entertain and enlighten the audience; movies that seek to enrich the human spirit and the art of filmmaking — not the bottom line of the studios which produce them.
Places like Traverse City, and Manistee for that matter, with neighborhood movie theaters, made going to the movies the most popular form of entertainment in the world — long before the age of the multiplex. But according to Moore, and the other architects of the TC Film Fest, something of that magic has been lost, and they are seeking to reclaim it.
That’s why they created the festival, and have the goal of giving the public “just great movies” for about a week every year in August.
And there’s no sign of the festival slowing down any time soon. “I think we may add a day or two next year,” said Moore. “Just to accomodate all the people who want to see movies. And I think we’ll have more and more filmmakers wanting to come here — from all over, and the midwest.”
Cean Burgeson can be reached at: cburgeson@pioneergroup.net

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