Given that Michigan has the eighth largest population in the United States, it surely comes as no surprise that the state boasts a fair number of celebrities, from Motown legend Aretha Franklin to movie star Jeff Daniels to President Gerald R. Ford. Of course, one of the most infamous individuals to hail from the Great Lakes State is the controversial filmmaker Michael Francis Moore , who was born in Flint, Michigan, in 1954.
Years after studying journalism at the University of Michigan-Flint, Moore turned to filmmaking. His first film, Roger & Me  (1989), was lauded by some as a biting indictment of the automotive industry, and has been considered by others as the start of Moore’s truth-bending, politically-charged style of filmmaking. In equal measure, he’s been called a documentary filmmaker and a propaganda artist – inspiring the term “docugandist.” Some of his more recent films include the Oscar-winning Bowling for Columbine  (2002), an exploration of America’s violent culture; the Oscar-nominated Sicko  (2007), a comparison of America’s healthcare industry to those of other countries, especially Cuba; and Capitalism: A Love Story  (2009), which investigates the impact of corporations on the everyday lives of Americans.
In the interest of being honest, I'll admit that I'm not the biggest fan of Moore's point of view or his often unethical methods of documentary filmmaking. But, no matter what you might think of his controversial films, his contribution to Michigan’s modern culture is undeniable. In 2005, Moore – along with photographer John Robert Williams and author Doug Stanton – established the Traverse City Film Festival , a charitable, educational organization whose sole purpose is to preserve one of America’s few native art forms: cinema. The festival, which owns and operates the State Theatre  (233 E. Front St., Traverse City, 231/947-4800), a year-round art-house movie theater in the Cherry Capital, also lures filmmakers and cinema buffs from around the world to its annual film festival in late July. This event, which has quickly become one of the state’s biggest attractions, features film-related classes, panel discussions about the film industry, and screenings that include foreign films, American independent films, documentaries, and classic movies.
Last week, Dan and I had a chance to attend the sixth annual Traverse City Film Festival, and I must admit that, in spite of my feelings toward Michael Moore the filmmaker, I was impressed with what Michael Moore the film festival founder has done for one of my favorite towns in Michigan. In the past, I've covered several aspects of the Traverse City region – including the National Cherry Festival , Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore , the Cherry Republic , the Old Mission Peninsula wineries , and the Grand Traverse Lighthouse  – and now, I have something new to write about. After experiencing the opening night party on Front Street last Tuesday, which lured a lot of enthusiastic festival-goers, highlighted a wide array of local restaurants and wineries, and featured Michael Moore himself, we spent much of the week attending classes and screenings – both to experience a Michigan event and to see how it compared to our own film festivals, the Big Easy International Film Festival  and the Beverly Hills Shorts Festival .
As expected, there was no shortage of “dangerous docs,” from Cleanflix  (2009), which focuses on controversial film-sanitizing operations, to GasLand  (2010), which investigates the potentially harmful practice of hydraulic drilling for natural gas. While I found it a bit ironic that a film festival begun by Michael Moore featured a filmmaker panel about “situational ethics in documentary filmmaking,” I was delighted to see so many people on the streets of Traverse City, enjoying the art of cinema, relishing the warmth of the season, and contributing to the coffers of numerous shops, restaurants, and hotels.
For more information about Traverse City's annual events and various attractions, consult my Moon Michigan  guide or the Traverse City Convention & Visitors Bureau  (101 W. Grandview Pkwy., Traverse City, 231/947-1120 or 800/872-8377, 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Mon.-Fri.).
As always, I’m open to ideas for future posts. If you have any suggestions, burning questions, or destinations that you’d like me to explore in greater detail, please comment below or contact me via laura [at] wanderingsoles [dot] com.
Disclosure: While I occasionally accept free or discounted travel assistance when it coincides with my editorial goals, my opinion is never for sale, which means that everything written in my American Nomad  blog and my Moon travel guides is my unbiased reflection of the things that I see, do, and experience while traveling across the United States.
Photo of Traverse City © 2010 Daniel Martone / Text © 2010 Laura Martone