Michael Moore has made a career of butting heads with bigwigs.
His documentaries, laced with satire on politics and society, have taken aim at General Motors Corp. (“Roger & Me”), the National Rifle Association (“Bowling for Columbine,” the 2002 Oscar winner) and President Bush (“Fahrenheit 9/11”).
Still in the works is “Sicko,” a none-too-flattering perspective on the U.S. health care system.
And he’s overseeing the second annual Traverse City Film Festival, which he established last year with author Doug Stanton and photographer John Robert Williams. More than 70 films, many independently produced, will be shown in three indoor theaters and on a giant outdoor screen from Monday through Aug. 6.
For this Northern Michigan town’s movie buffs, it’s a chance to see many of the art films shown in big cities. But, true to form, Moore also regards the festival as part of a mission to combat what he considers Hollywood’s slide into mediocrity.
“Hollywood has become an assembly line, not unlike GM, where it churns out the same old, same old year after year,” Moore told The Associated Press. “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.”
Obviously, it will take more than one festival in a small Midwestern town to stem the tide. But, hey, Moore says, Michigan has been a trendsetter before — think automobiles.
“I guess in our own small way, we’d like this festival to be the birthplace of this particular movement to reclaim the cinema as one of our few indigenous art forms.”
No one was sure what to expect when Moore and his team proposed the festival last year.
Democrat John Kerry outpolled Bush in Traverse City in the 2004 presidential election, but Northern Michigan is largely Republican. Some wondered if Moore, an outspoken left-winger, would provoke a backlash.
A handful of conservatives sponsored an alternative film festival, but attendance was sparse. Moore’s program, supported by hundreds of local volunteers, sold more than 50,000 tickets — more than three times the city’s population. Most of the 30 films were sellouts.
‘Sense of awe and wonder’Moore said that simply shows that people of all political stripes hunger for quality films.
“We all walk into the theater hoping to see something that ... will take us back to that sense we had when we first started seeing movies, that sense of awe and wonder,” he said. “It’s rare to have that feeling today.
“For me, a great movie is a movie that takes me someplace I’ve never been before, that leaves me with a feeling of exhilaration, that sends me out of the theater perhaps more enlightened. And the best ones of all give me a good, hearty laugh.”
This year’s festival lineup is an eclectic mix — timeless classics such as “The Wizard of Oz” and little-known indies; comedy and drama; humor and tragedy.
Two scheduled showings of Al Gore’s “An Inconvenient Truth” quickly sold out, so a third was added. Also requiring additional screenings were Jeff Garlin’s romantic comedy “I Want Someone to Eat Cheese With;” “The Prizewinner of Defiance, Ohio,” starring Julianne Moore and Woody Harrelson; and “La Moustache,” a French tale of a man who shaves off his mustache and goes into a psychological tailspin when no one notices.
Also part of the festival is a salute to Stanley Kubrick, featuring the director’s films, including “2001: A Space Odyssey” and “Eyes Wide Shut.” Moore said he first dreamed of being a filmmaker at age 17 after seeing “A Clockwork Orange.”
“He is my favorite filmmaker,” Moore said. “He broke ground over and over and over again.”
The closing night feature will be Woody Allen’s “Scoop.”
Aside from the movies, there will be daily panel discussions with Garlin; actor-director Jeff Daniels, a Michigan native; and “Seinfeld” producer Larry Charles, whose film “Borat” is in the lineup.
Joining a session on Kubrick will be his longtime executive producer, Jan Harlan, and actors Malcolm McDowell (“A Clockwork Orange”) and Matthew Modine (“Full Metal Jacket”).