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Saturday, August 4, 2018

FINANCIAL DUMPSTER FIRE PUTS DAMPER ON MICHAEL MOORE'S ANNUAL NORTHERN MICHIGAN VANITY FEST: Internal Woes Have Film Festival Reeling; Moore Reveals Festival Ordered “A Forensic Audit Of Its Finances”

“In December, the board terminated Deb, and we did so because of our ethical obligations, our legal obligations. We made an informed decision.”
Michael Moore

“I have not to date seen any evidence that the board met or discussed my employment. I still believe that decision was made unilaterally by Michael. That’s how things are done at the Traverse City Film Festival — unilaterally by Michael. 

The implication he made about the board having an ethical or legal duty to terminate my employment was false.” 
Deborah Lake

Tomorrow morning, Michael Moore will greet the day in a condo located in a downtown Traverse City building noted for its stunning views of Grand Traverse Bay.

Moore's neighbors, including disgraced former Michigan State University President Lou Anna Simon and at least one other prominent sponsor of the Traverse City Film Festival, may not notice his departure for the festival's closing day.

But Moore won't be leaving the building alone: the financial mess that hit the fan during yesterday's Q&A session will follow him like Banquo's ghost. Moore revealed during the event that the festival had ordered a forensic audit of its financial records.

And Moore finally publicly admitted that former festival director Deb Lake's departure last December was not voluntary—Lake didn't jump, she was pushed.

Linking Lake's departure to unspecified “ethical and legal obligations”, Moore tip-toed around a concrete reason, leaving audience members to form their own opinions.

But Lake, the woman who coat-tailed her way to success (and a $75,000 annual salary) by acceding to Moore's every capricious whim for thirteen years, disputed his version of her departure as the festival's executive director. 

As Interlochen Public Radio reported yesterday, Lake said in an email to the public radio station that she believes Moore's statement is false and that he was the one who decided to terminate her. 

She wrote, “I believe that the decision was made unilaterally by Michael, as almost all decisions made by TCFF were during my 13 years with the festival. The implication that the board had an ethical or legal duty to terminate my employment with TCFF is also false.” 

Back in 2012, Lake described the two Michael Moores to Howard Lovy at Crain's Detroit Business: “There is a fictional Michael Moore — and that's the Michael Moore that you read about in the newspapers and in the national media and on Fox News,” Lake said. “And then there's the real Michael Moore. And they are two very different people.”

Moore, who referred to Traverse City's State Theatre as “my theater” in a July 24 Facebook post, has cannily used the annual film festival as a potent promotional vehicle, hyping his newest project while reinforcing his relevance as a filmmaker.

For example, a recent New York Times Travel section article,  “Michael Moore Loves Movies. And Showing Them in Traverse City.”, plugs Moore’s movie “Fahrenheit 11/9,” about the presidency of Donald Trump, scheduled to open in September. 

And the piece reminds readers that Moore's nonfiction show, “Michael Moore TV Nation,” will have its premiere on TBS in October.

Is that a crime?

No, it's not.

But the financial history of the Traverse City Film Festival reveals a disturbing trend: total revenue peaked in 2013, and has been on a downward trajectory since then.

The financial information at left, taken from the film festival's official IRS Form 990 reports, clearly shows the trend.

Last year, according to the Traverse City Record-Eagle, the Traverse City Film Festival took several months to follow through on a payment contract with BATA for $12,285 in advertising expenses, according to correspondence obtained through a Record-Eagle Freedom of Information Act request.

The initial billing was supplied to the festival in July 2017, and Lake responded to BATA officials on the amount on Oct. 23, 2017. “We are experiencing some cash flow issues, but we will make a payment this week to show progress, and we will get the entire bill paid in November, if not sooner,” she wrote. 

BATA officials received those promised funds on Jan. 8, 2018 after months of back and forth. 

Moore announced last year that he was planning on creating a documentary centered on Trump and his presidency titled, Fahrenheit 11/9. The new documentary refers to the date Trump effectively became the president-elect in 2016. That film was officially announced at the Cannes Film Festival in 2017, when Harvey and Bob Weinstein said they had personally bought worldwide rights under their Fellowship Adventure Group as they pitched the film to potential distributors. 

While it was originally slated for a potential summer 2017 release, Moore turned his focus instead to his Broadway show, The Terms of My Surrender, which had a 12-week run. 

Veteran film exec Tom Ortenberg, who stepped down as CEO of Open Road Films last November, is in the process of launching a new company, Briarcliff Entertainment, and is partnering with Moore to release Fahrenheit 11/9

Distributing the new film together will mark a reteaming for Moore and Ortenberg, since Ortenberg was at Lionsgate when that company released Fahrenheit 9/11, which remains the highest grossing doc of all time with $222 million in worldwide grosses, as well as one of Moore's subsequent films, Sicko.

Moore, to paraphrase of my favorite film icons, Melanie Griffith, does have a head for business.

Too bad it's not on display in Traverse City.

Or maybe it is?



  1. Your reading of the "trajectory" in the financial reports is a stretch. But they do reveal a curiosity, and that's the roughly $800,000 jump in contributions from 2012 to 2013, which then fell back to roughly the same level as before in 2014 and 2015. Also of note is the larger than normal jump in expenses between 2013 and 2014. All these numbers may be normal flux, but we'll need 2016 forward to see what the actual trend is.

    1. Thank you for the input. I've addressed your comment in this post: http://glisteningquiveringunderbelly.blogspot.com/2018/08/smart-assets-year-over-year-traverse.html