People — 25 October 2015
Michael Moore film opens 2015 film festival

Editor’s note: Michael Moore has canceled his live appearance at the Hard Rock Live debut of the Fort Lauderdale Film Festival, but he will be doing his post-film Q&A at Hard Rock via Skype. FLIFF President Gregory Von Hausch says the long-distance link should not interfere with his trademark candor.

By Elizabeth Rahe

Three wild car rides, one post-Wilma rescue and five Fort Lauderdale Film Festival visits – FLiFF President and CEO Gregory von Hausch and his opening-night guest, documentary filmmaker Michael Moore, go way back.

“The first two times he came down, 1989 and 1990, he had early returning flights the next morning. I’m an early riser and my drivers worked late, so both years I said I would take him to the airport. I remember Michael coming down to the lobby stuffing clothes in his bag, tying his sneakers in the car as I bolted like an EMT to the airport. Both years. The next time I saw him he autographed a poster to me stating, ‘To Gregory, the best Festival Director, who got me to the airport 0-60 in 3 seconds …’ ”

That’s two car rides. Stay tuned for the third, and the hurricane-aftermath save.

The two met at the Toronto Film Festival in 1989. Moore was screening his first documentary, Roger & Me, exploring the effects of General Motors plant closings in his native Flint, Mich. Von Hausch, a former regional theater co-director three months into his job with FLiFF, invited the former journalist and budding filmmaker to the Fort Lauderdale fest.

 Roger & Me launched Moore’s documentary career and helped jump-start the three-year-old Fort Lauderdale festival, which celebrates its 30th anniversary during the Nov. 6-22 run.

As Moore tells the story: “Long before anyone knew who I was, and two months before my first film, Roger & Me, opened to the public, a young Gregory von Hausch invited me to come and show my movie at the Fort Lauderdale Film Festival. The response to the film was through the roof. The festival was filled with so many good people, and I had a great time. Since then I’ve been back many times and am grateful for the response my work has received in South Florida.”

Over the years Moore would make three more appearances at the festival, bringing his thought-provoking films and larger-than-life presence to South Florida audiences. He makes his fifth appearance Nov. 6 with his latest documentary, Where to Invade Next, for an opening-night screening, Q&A session and party at Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino.

Although the title seems to suggest American warmongering, the film is actually a travelogue, of sorts, in which Moore treks abroad to steal ideas for dealing with societal issues and comparing them to American situations. He kept the subject of the film quiet until the world premiere at the Toronto Film Festival Sept. 10, saying he wanted to avoid the hype before audiences saw the film.

Reportedly labeled by his crew as “Mike’s Happy Movie,” the cinema journey reveals gourmet meals served to schoolchildren in France (a cheese course!), effective educational tactics in Finland (no homework!), and generous paid leave in Italy (up to eight weeks!), among other practices.

There is no mention of the ills plaguing these countries. “I went there to pick the flowers, not the weeds,” Moore told an audience in Toronto, where the film received an extended standing ovation.

Moore’s rabble-rousing persona makes him perfect for the FLiFF kickoff role. “I need an opener that will draw in as wide an audience as possible … new faces to FLiFF,” von Hausch says, “and Michael will help me fill those 1,200 seats [at Hard Rock Live].”

Moore was a big help in 2005 after Hurricane Wilma tore through downtown Fort Lauderdale – and FLiFF’s Cinema Paradiso – one week into the fest.

“I was just trying to keep things from falling apart – literally and figuratively – when he called out of the blue,” von Hausch says.

Moore packed the house at AMC Coral Ridge, creating the highest-grossing event of 2005. He also paid his own travel expenses, von Hausch says, as he did again in 2010.

It’s no wonder he writes of Moore in this year’s festival program guide: “Brilliant filmmaker, yes. True friend, absolutely … the best.”

Moore’s films, targeting what he sees as social and political ills, have won him both acclaim and disdain. Bowling for Columbine, focusing on gun violence in America, won the 2002 Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature. Fahrenheit 9/11 (2004), Moore’s view about how the Bush Administration used the 2001 terrorist attacks to justify wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, is the highest-grossing documentary ($119 million, imdb.com). He has also set his sights on U.S. health care (Sicko, 2007) and the causes of the late-2000s financial crisis (Capitalism, a Love Story, 2009). His top five films have grossed $341.7 million worldwide, according to boxofficemojo.com.

Never one to shy away from social commentary – he has said democracy is not a spectator sport – Moore recently reiterated his views on gun violence with his 1.87 million Twitter followers. In response to the Umpqua Community College shooting, he posted, “News Media: Quit acting like this is a surprise. It’s not news. It’s just another day in the USA. 45th school shooting for 2015.”

The public answers Moore’s strong opinions with their own, a point von Hausch makes in the FLiFF guide:

“Raise your hands, who has heard of filmmaker Michael Moore? Ok, put them down. Who has an opinion of Mr. Moore?

“Odds are, in a crowded room, you’d be hard pressed to see the exit after those questions are asked. Michael is a lightning rod who always elicits a reaction for or against. His films may have stirred controversy, but time and again he is proven right.”

He is hoping Moore’s name and his new “happy” film will once again pack the house for FLiFF.

“I also love visiting my favorite haunts in the area,” Moore says, setting up the South Florida punchline. “The Museum of the Hanging Chad, the Statue of the Unknown Spring Breaker, and I love going for a late afternoon dip in the ocean, also known by the sharks as their Early Bird Special. ”

As for how the filmmaker will get to Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Nov. 6 – that remains to be seen. Which brings us to von Hausch’s third wild ride:

“In 2005 he was staying down in Aventura, and I sent a limo to pick him up. Either the driver was late or Michael wasn’t ready at the appointed minute, and it was going to throw a wrench into the program. So the hired driver took it upon himself to play Gene Hackman in The French Connection, with Michael and his crew in the back of the limo being tossed around like rag dolls. At the theater, when an ashen-faced Michael stumbled out of the car, he whispered to me, “Hey, I’ll just take a cab back, no problem.”

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