Monday, June 10, 2013

6.10.13 Hero of the Day: Michael Moore



Name: Michael Moore
Age: 59
Occupation: filmmaker
Last Seen: Traverse City, MI
Awarded For: giving people more choice

One lesson I've learned in life is that every city and town has its ups and downs.

For an example: my hometown of Grand Rapids. We have lots of bars and hangouts, movie theatres and concert venues. Sadly, the town has its prudes, like the DeVos family who dictate what this town can have, which is one reason why there's no strip clubs here. Plus, instead of locally-owned grocers, we're stuck with a Meijer on every street corner since they live here. Not to mention that this town has its share of crime

In my life, I've only lived in two major areas: west Michigan and Traverse City. I spent the first 20 years of my life living up north, and they have their pluses over the Furniture Capital, they do have two strip clubs, but otherwise, the bar scene is loaded with seniors. There's hardly any crime, although homelessness is an issue, especially since one of them, Tony Ciccone, is the brother of Madonna. Most of the supermarkets are locally-owned - like Tom's and Oleson's - but they're all supplied by Grand Rapids-based Spartan (who now own two Family Fares in Traverse City).

Sadly, one minus Traverse City had for years was its movie theatres. Currently, they have two multiplexes that are only one mile apart from each other and they're as warm as a jail cell. Both were built by the long-defunct George Kerasotes Corporation (GKC) shortly before the stadium seating boom of the mid-90's, and current owners Carmike have done virtually nothing to make their theatres more modern. Even worse, they charge modern megaplex prices for people to go to their theatres that look like they were built in the 80's.

But thankfully, they do have competition, and its Traverse City itself.

In 2007, a non-profit group led by filmmaker and local resident Michael Moore reopened the long-shuttered State Theatre after over a decade of closure. GKC had previously owned the theatre, built in 1949 by predecessor W.S. Butterfield Theatres. Previously, two theatres were in the same spot as the State, both called the Lyric. The first Lyric was built in 1916 but was leveled by fire in 1923. The second Lyric was built just a few months later, but was also destroyed in a fire in 1948. Butterfield reopened the theatre as the State in 1949, even though there was another State Theatre 15 miles north in Elk Rapids (which was renamed the Elk Rapids Cinema in 1960 and is still open today).

Over the years, Butterfield was thankful that their only competition involved theatres in other local towns and a few drive-ins. They were bought out by Kerasotes in 1984; at the time, they had three theatres, all spaced in convenient locations and had two screens: the State, Grand Traverse in Acme and the Plaza at the Meijer. However, in 1992, GKC opened the eight-screen Grand Traverse at the Grand Traverse Mall and the Plaza was closed and demolished. The old Grand Traverse in Acme was renamed the Traverse Bay. Eventually, both the State and Traverse Bay became second-run houses showing films for only a few bucks. However, both theatres' fates were sealed when the 10-screen Horizon opened in 1995. The Traverse Bay became a dinner theater while the State sat dormant for years.

Of course, Michael Moore decided to create the Traverse City Film Festival not only to re-open the State, but also give folks in the Cherry Capital an alternative to seeing films in shoebox auditoriums. The Festival was such a success that the then-owners of the State, the Rotary donated it to Moore's group, who remodeled it top to bottom. The theatre was de-twinned, new seats were installed, a new screen was put in, new sound system, projection, the works. And most of all, a lot of the remodeling came from volunteers who love movies like everybody else.

Now, the State - under Moore's aegis - is a must-see destination for any movie-lover. Recently,, a website operated by the Motion Picture Association of America voted it as the best movie theatre in the world. Only two American theatres made the list. The site lauded the theatre for being community-run, plus the fact that they throw parties, 25-cent family matinees and the fact that when the temperature exceeds 100 degrees, they won't charge admission.

And best of all, it's all run by volunteers, and normal admission is only $8. Since it's community-run, don't be surprised if they want you to work there if you go there.

However, there has been one thing plaguing the State, and it's the fact that they have a clause with Carmike - through ex-owner GKC - that they cannot show films playing in more than 200 screens. In other words, the State can only show indie movies or sub-run movies that have long left most theatres. But thankfully, they are getting around that edict.

Last week, Moore announced that the TCFF is buying the long-dormant Con Foster Museum and converting it into a small, 177-seat cinema. According to Moore, it will be just like the State, but smaller. And since there's no edict with other chains, the theatre - being renamed "Bijou By The Bay" - will be allowed to show first-run films to compete with the Grand Traverse Mall and Horizon Cinemas.

The purchase of the Con Foster Museum is appropriate since Foster was a long-time manager for the Lyric from 1927 until his passing in 1940. He was instrumental in modernizing the theatre, even making it Traverse City's first theatre with sound movies in 1929.

Just because you live in a small town doesn't mean that you should be forced into having big-city hand-me-downs. People in Traverse City love movies, but shouldn't have to go see the chiropractor because they sit in seats that don't recline and are forced to adjust their neck because of no stadium seating (OK, so the State doesn't have stadium seating, but there's a balcony, and the seats are nice and plush). When a community comes together to show their love of something as simple as the movies, things work in the long run. That's why the State's been a success story since Michael Moore's group got their hands on it.

I've been to the State before in 2008, where I saw the Australian film "Eddie" about a man who cleans port-a-potties for a living. It wasn't bad, although it never got a wide release. The manager even had me be a doorman, which I was proud doing. If I still lived in Traverse City, I would go to the State often and avoid Carmike at all costs, at least until they can be capable of modernizing their shitty cinemas.

Here's an idea: how about if the Traverse City Film Festival raises funds to buy and remodel the Grand Traverse Mall and Horizon Cinemas? It wouldn't hurt. Just imagine: all 21 screens in Traverse City being community-owned like the Green Bay Packers. An idea like this works since the Packers have won many Super Bowls and they're the smallest team in pro sports. Already, Moore has shown that a man and his city can do better with just one screen over a corporation running 19.

Anything can happen with community spirit.


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