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.
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.