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The Politics of Michael Moore's Film Fest
August 8, 2006

By James L. Hirsen, J.D., Ph.D.
contributor to

The second annual Traverse City Film Festival just wrapped up six full days of movie screenings.

But because its founder is the Left's lightning rod, filmmaker Michael Moore, the festival had its share of controversy.

For example, a movie studio begged the festival not to show a new documentary. Moore's festival responded by screening the movie a reported three times.

The documentary in question is called "Jesus Camp," which features a summer camp for fundamentalist Christian children.

The movie's distributor, Magnolia Films, plans to market the film to Christians and is concerned about Moore's controversial reputation.

"The reality of the world we live in today is that if Michael Moore endorses it, tens of millions will automatically reject it," Eamonn Bowles, president of Magnolia Films, told All Headline News.

Moore claimed that he originally had "no intention of showing 'Jesus Camp' in this festival."

"The producers begged me to show it. I said OK. Then they sent me the film this week to show it in the festival. [Then], one day before its screening, after all its tickets have been sold, they sent me and the press a fax saying they want the film pulled," Moore said.

Moore also used the occasion of his festival to lash out at Hollywood.

In a recent Associated Press interview to promote the event, Moore asserted that his festival is a part of his mission to combat Hollywood mediocrity.

"Hollywood has become an assembly line, not unlike GM, where it churns out the same old, same old year after year," Moore said. "Trying to play it safe, not taking any risks, and giving the people what they think the people need as opposed to listening to them and asking them what they would like."

The Michigan-based filmmaker told Variety, "The continued decrease in attendance [for Hollywood films] is not because of piracy, videogames, or the Internet, it's because the movies aren't very good anymore."

Moore's M.O. to reclaim cinema quality was to screen lots of popular films, show Al Gore's "An Inconvenient Truth" four times and hold politically charged panels.

Beth Milligan, a Traverse City native, reported from the festival for the local newspaper, the Traverse City Record-Eagle.

Milligan told NewsMax that this year's festival had "exponentially improved over last year's in every possible way, including public perception."

She acknowledged that many in the region were initially suspicious that Michael Moore's involvement would mean that a political agenda would taint the festival.

"The community has since realized, however, that this is not the case as ticket sales, attendance, letters to the local paper, and support by local conservatives and Republican politicians will attest," Milligan indicated.

Locals were apparently happy about the boost the festival gave to the local economy. They also liked the fact that the festival presented classic movies free of charge on a giant inflatable outdoor screen.

Big Hollywood names were in attendance at the Traverse City event including Moore's agent, Ari Emanuel; "Hotel Rwanda" director Terry George; "Borat" director Larry Charles and producer of "An Inconvenient Truth" Lawrence Bender.

At the screening of the documentary "Who Killed The Electric Car?" the audience was "amazingly vocal," according to Milligan's report. "People openly hissed whenever oil executives or President Bush appeared on screen, and catcalled various other figureheads throughout the film."

A panel titled "Shooting War: You Say I-Raq, I Say I-Ran," focused on films made about Middle Eastern conflicts. It featured panelists Mani Haghighi ("Men at Work"), David O. Russell ("Three Kings"), Deborah Scranton and Zack Bazzi ("The War Tapes") and Chuck Pfarrer (author of "Killing Ché"). Michael Moore was the moderator of the discussion.

Haghighi, an Iranian filmmaker, lectured the audience on the politics of Iran. "Iranians love the American people," he said. "They enjoy American art, pop culture, etc. What they don't understand is how such a people could elect this government and allow it to get to this point. It doesn't make sense."

Haghighi said he feels safe in his home city, Tehran.

"It's been easier for me to make my films there than it probably has for Michael [Moore] to make his movies here. Iran is a democracy. It is flawed, yes, but it is a democracy," Haghighi said.

According to Milligan, Haghighi's comments were merely a reflection of the depressing times we live in.

Milligan explained that "what Mani and the other panelists did focus on, however, was the need for filmmakers and artists to continue creating art that inspires the public to have a discussion about these issues."

Another discussion panel at the festival was called "Is It Art? Is It Politics? Is There a Difference?" It featured Lawrence Bender ("An Inconvenient Truth"), Mark Dornford-May ("Son Of Man"), Mani Haghighi ("Men at Work"), Larry Charles ("Borat") and Malcolm McDowell ("A Clockwork Orange").

Lawrence Bender spoke about "An Inconvenient Truth." The producer said, "A movie that is essentially Al Gore giving a lecture is not the first pitch to a studio you'd make."

Bender then explained that the reason his involvement with the film was worth it was because the issue of global warming is "the most important issue facing us in this century. The consequences of everything else pale in comparison to the consequences of global warming."

Malcolm McDowell felt lucky to have been an actor in "A Clockwork Orange" even though the main character lacked scruples.

"It was a difficult role for me: How do you make a rapist and a murderer palatable? What I realized about that character was that he loved what he did, he had a great love and enjoyment of life, even if it was immoral," McDowell said.

Haghighi continued to describe the Iran he purports to know.

"Democracy is something we prize in Iran. It's part of our daily life, because we have to fight for it," he said.

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