During the final day of the inaugural Montclair Film Festival, documentary filmmaker Michael Moore chatted for about an hour about two of his favorite topics, movies and politics—left-leaning politics, to be specific.
Moore was clearly in his element in Montclair, a town 12-miles west of New York City known for embracing diversity, the arts and Democratic politicians.
So imagine the jeers from the sold-out audience at the Montclair Art Museum when Moore proclaimed, “To be honest, I don’t know the difference between this or Morristown.”
Moore, wearing his signature baseball cap, quickly bounced back by relating how he once ran a campaign for a ficus tree, challenging longtime U.S. Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen, a member of what he called the Frelinghuysen "dynasty" from Morris County.
“When you vote in Morristown it looks like the old Soviet Union, ‘We need only one name on the ballot, Fre-ling-huy-sen,’” he said in a fake Russian accent.
Never afraid to speak his mind, Moore warned the audience about being complacent and encouraged activism.
“If you think this is such a great place, then why aren’t you leading the rest of New Jersey to be a better place?” he asked. He encouraged the crowd to organize young people, and called Republican Gov. Chris Christie a “disgrace.”
When he drew applause from the latter, he said, “Ok, now I know where I am.”
The controversial filmmaker gained fame in 1989 for Roger & Me in which he confronts General Motors CEO Roger Smith about the harm downsizing the automotive manufacturer caused to the community of Flint, Mich. His more recent films include Sicko, a look at the business of U.S. healthcare, and Capitalism: A Love Story, about how corporations impact the day-to-day life of Americans.
Moore, 58, was invited to the festival by co-director Thom Powers to talk about the successful film festival he launched in 2005 in his current hometown of Traverse City, Mich. Powers, who moderated Sunday’s program, said Moore's festival energized Traverse City both culturally and economically, something Montclair’s festival organizers hope to emulate.
The motto of the Traverse City Film Festival is “Just Great Movies,” or as Moore put it, “It’s less fartsy, and more artsy.”
He said the largely red county where Traverse City is based has embraced the festival and Moore’s efforts, which include renovating a 100-year-old movie theater in the downtown. He recently received a Businessman of the Year Award from a Republican organization.
Moore called film the great American artform and compared films to chocolate.
“It just feels good to see a great movie,” he said.
When making a film, he said his primary goal is to entertain.
“The politics has to come second to the art,” he said, adding, “If I really wanted to do politics, I’d run for office. I’ve chosen to be a filmmaker.”
Moore said documentaries should tell the audience something they don’t know, a belief that has kept him from subjects like the Occupy movement and global warming.
The initial reaction about not knowing Montclair from Morristown was drawn from an audience member who asked how the Montclair festival can be more provocative in a town full of people who consider themselves progressive.
In the serious part of his response, Moore encouraged Montclair organizers to push the envelope.
“I think you should show films in places like Montclair that make us, liberals, uncomfortable.”