Michael Moore: Traverse City and the Next Cool Thing

Bridge recently asked Oscar-winning filmmaker Michael Moore, founder of the nonprofit Traverse City Film Festival, to talk about the city’s thriving arts scene, some local complaints of festival fatigue, and what the region needs next.

Bridge Magazine: When you look around Traverse City today, what are the most profound ways in which the town has changed since you started the Traverse City Film Festival?

Michael Moore: People are out late, and there’s a lot more of them downtown, all day long. In 2005 for the first film festival, we had our pick of any number of empty storefronts for festival offices and the box office. In 2013, there were no open store fronts on Front Street, so our box office ended up on the second floor of a building on Union Street, and we were lucky to find that. We've seen a remarkable transformation in 9 short years since TCFF began, and six years since the State Theatre reopened.

Bridge: What’s the greatest compliment, or most striking observation, you’ve heard from a nonresident about Traverse City?

Moore: Maybe the greatest compliment is that almost every filmmaker who comes to TCFF says the same thing — this is the most beautiful, friendliest city I have ever visited, and the best film festival I’ve ever been in.

Bridge: How have other, smaller festivals, such as the National Writer Series, the Comedy Festival and festivals held by Porterhouse Productions impacted Traverse City?

Moore: They all contribute to making Traverse City a cooler, better place to live. We’re doing everything we can to keep talented young people here in Traverse City. These other festivals play a crucial role in that shared effort.

Bridge: Care to comment on the recent “festival fatigue” debate in town? What would you say to those residents who want greater access to the Open Space during the summer months?

Moore: We should be careful that we don't miss the next cool thing for Traverse City. What if a more restricted parks policy had been in place in 2005 and prevented the first Traverse City Film Festival from happening? Here's what would have happened: No TCFF, no State Theatre, no Bijou (a second theater) — and a downtown that would be very different today.

Bridge: As Traverse City (and the region) grows, how would you like to see it change? That is, what does the community need next?

Moore: Middle-class jobs – who is searching the world to bring them here? More affordable downtown housing. A move to eradicate poverty in the area, especially among children. Free medical, dental and mental health clinics for all to use. Low interest loans to inventors and entrepreneurs whose work may create jobs

A four-year university — when you have a university in your town, everything improves: culturally, economically, etc. Plus it’s always better to have smart people around than ignorant people. The ignorant and intolerant are never the ones who make progress happen. MSU should have a full 4-year branch up here, like U of M has in Flint and Dearborn.

A downtown grocery store. Free wi-fi everywhere and high-speed cable lines that are already laid should be turned on for everyone to use. More benches downtown and public restrooms on Front Street. Stores that stay open after 5 p.m.

Better mass transit (shuttle buses) and a high-speed rail line down I-75 to Detroit/Ann Arbor and down US-131 to Kalamazoo and on to Chicago.

Mayors who will defy the state constitutional ban on gay marriage and marry gay couples.

Abortion is legal in the United States. If you want one in northern Michigan, you should be able to get it. It's the law of the land.

A Ferris wheel on the beach. Stuff for teens to do.

Bridge: How has the way Traverse City is viewed by nonresidents changed?

Moore: Traverse City is now being recognized as a place that is creative, diverse, tolerant, exciting and one of the best places to live in the country.

Bridge: How has the TCFF impacted northern Michigan, in general?

Moore: We have done our part in helping to turn things around economically and to improve the quality and standard of living. Plus, a lot more people go to the movies now up here, all around the region. That's a good thing.

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Tue, 01/21/2014 - 8:46am
MM is not an authentic spokesman for TC. He doesn't live here and is not tied into the real economic development work. For him its all about him. Just what we don't need is a guy who thinks having abortions in TC will improve it.
Tue, 01/21/2014 - 8:56am
Michael Moore does live here. He not only has a home on Torch Lake, he has a condo on Washington Street.
Tue, 01/21/2014 - 11:01am
Out of all the things that MM mentioned that TC needs next you choose to denigrate him on the comment on abortion.Sad. What TC really needs is less narrow minded citizens like you in it's population.
Wed, 01/29/2014 - 8:10pm
Tue, 01/21/2014 - 10:39am
As your community is like a donut! Keep your eye upon the do-nuts & focus on the whole bennifical factor. Make sure it's a team effort & not political as we all are seeing what those bunch of donuts bring ????
Wed, 01/22/2014 - 1:53pm
I applaud Michael Moore for his vision in regards to the State Theater and the Film Festival, it's been a wonderful thing for our city. The economic impact in regards to tourism is great. I fully believe that someday, rather soon, TCFF will surpass NCF as the most important event in Traverse City. I do challenge Mr. Moore however. If he truly would like to see more middle-class jobs in our region, why not start hiring local professionals to do some of the work for TCFF? Why are volunteers needed for positions that could be paid to local contractors and freelancers, in media, technology, and more? TCFF is excellent, I am a big fan, but there is money being sent elsewhere or being left out of the pockets of people in TC who could do the jobs that are being farmed out or being handed to volunteers who earn nothing more than tickets to some movies.
Barb Von Voigtlander
Sun, 01/26/2014 - 1:54pm
I think that generally Mr. Moore is right on with the things that should happen next for TC as well as many towns in Michigan. I'd like to see them happen here first. If you don't dream big, nothing will change. All we need is an environment that will make it happen and a critical mass of people to support it.
Mon, 04/06/2015 - 3:01pm
since when is Torch Lake TC? and I hear he bailed on the Washington condo! he couldnt own one yet anyway since they are just being built!!! I do appreciate what he has brought to TC for income but have NO other respect for the man. "Hypocritical"