July 23, 2014 at 1:00 am

Michael Moore sticks to vision as Traverse City Film Fest turns 10

'Magic in the Moonlight' (Traverse City Film Festival)

In its first year, 2005, the Traverse City Film Festival sold 50,000 tickets. It was a huge success.

Last year, it sold 119,000 tickets.

But ask festival founder-programmer Michael Moore how the festival has changed as it enters its 10th anniversary year, running Tuesday-Aug. 3, and he pauses before saying, “It hasn't.”

At least not in attitude.

“Honest to God, I know it sounds weird, but I feel I am programming it 10 years later the way I programmed it the first year,” says Moore, who handpicks all the festival's films. “There’s more of it, there’s the factual parts that are different ... but we’ve approached this with the same attitude.

“I have the same standards in my head. I’m thinking about the audience constantly. I’m thinking I want a variety of things for a variety of people,” says the Oscar-winning director of the documentaries “Bowling for Columbine,” “Fahrenheit 9/11” and “Sicko.”

The nonprofit festival has always depended on volunteers — Moore being one of them — and last year some 1,500 people from all walks of life turned out to help.

“Literally you can look behind a popcorn counter and see a circuit court judge and a single mom working,” Moore says.

And by the way ...

“If you want popcorn, it’s the same price it was 10 years ago, two bucks,” says Moore on the phone from New York.

Most importantly, though, the festival, with a longtime motto of “Just great movies,” still offers an eclectic mix of films that range from classics (“The Goonies,” “Jaws” and “Jurrasic Park” all play this year) to foreign gems (“The Hunt,” “The Past”) to films still awaiting release (Woody Allen's latest, “Magic in the Moonlight,” and the Elmore Leonard adaptation “Life of Crime” with Jennifer Aniston).

Add in documentaries (“Finding Vivian Maier,” the Roger Ebert bio “Life Itself”) and shorts (including selections from the Ann Arbor Film Festival) and the festival is offering more than a hundred films this year.

A number of which, Moore stresses, are free to the public.

“You can come up to Traverse City for the entire week. I can’t put you up in my bedroom, but if you can find a place to crash or a tent to pitch, you can spend every day at the festival and literally not spend a dime and see five or six films a day,” he says.

Moore's motives in founding the festival, and creating an entire cinema revival in the Traverse City area, were not completely unselfish. Famously devoted to film — he spends a full 10 minutes on the phone describing the opening scene of a German film, “Stations of the Cross,” playing at the fest — he found few art or foreign films when he first moved to Traverse City more than a decade ago.

“The first couple of years I would literally drive from Traverse City to the Detroit Film Theatre to see a movie. Four hours. I would drive to Ann Arbor to see a movie,” Moore says.

“Frankly, I got tired of driving,” he says. “If you had to ask one personal way that I’ve benefited from the festival, it’s that I’ve saved on gas.”

There have also been, obviously, less tangible benefits.

“I do this because I enjoy this, I love the movies. Film has always spoken to me, I think it’s a great way to communicate,” Moore says.

“I love sharing this with people. I think the world’s a better place with good movies in it.

“I see people thinking about things when they come out of the theater. I hear the discussions going on,” Moore says. “You can imagine how much I love all that.”

The 10th annual Traverse City Film Festival

Tuesday-Aug. 3

Venues throughout Traverse City

$12 general admission

Assorted free movies, presentations and panel discussions

Box office: (231) 242-FILM

For complete film and ticket info: traversecityfilmfest.org

tlong@detroitnews.com
twitter.com/toomuchTomLong

'Life Itself' (Traverse City Film Festival)
'The Goonies' (Traverse City Film Festival)
'Finding Vivian Maier' (Traverse City Film Festival)