Michael Moore to help restore Michigan’s downtown movie theaters

Bohm Theatre, Albion

Bohm Theatre, Albion, photo by I am Jacques Strappe.

One of the cool things that came out at this year’s Traverse City Film Festival was Michael Moore’s plan to to bring back downtown movie theaters. John Flesher And Mike Householder of the AP write in USA Today:

For generations, Americans viewed films in stately, single-screen theaters that were pillars of city business districts — an experience that faded with the rise of suburban multiplexes and the decline of downtowns.

Michael Moore wants to bring those theaters back. The Academy Award-winning documentary filmmaker has a plan to refurbish or prop up downtown movie houses in his home state of Michigan— and eventually nationwide.

Such efforts have been made before. But Moore’s approach has a twist, modeled on the successful resurrection of the State Theatre in Traverse City, his adopted hometown in northern Michigan.

The way to rescue downtown movie houses, Moore says, is to run them as nonprofit ventures staffed mostly with volunteers. That slashes costs and gives the community a stake in the theater’s survival, he says.

Moore plans to provide grants and training to theater operators who use those methods. The money would come from a fund he’s creating with his rebate from a state film tax credit earned by producing his documentary, Capitalism: A Love Story, in Michigan. He expects the refund to total about $1 million.

“One of our goals is to create an economic boost, particularly in struggling downtown areas,” he told The Associated Press this week during the annual Traverse City Film Festival, which he and others established six years ago. “Another is to save the art of cinema and encourage great films to be made.”

The Flint native moved to the Traverse City area in 2003 and took an interest in the State Theatre on the resort town’s main street. Opened in 1916, it had become a shuttered relic.

As someone who lives in Traverse City and has seen the amazing impact that the re-opening of the State Theatre has had on downtown Traverse City by driving traffic to restaurants and shops, I have to say that this is an economic development idea that communities should take a good look at!

If you want to see these theaters, there’s no better place than Marjorie O’Brien’s amazing Theaters of Michigan set. The theaters are organized alphabetically by city name. She hopes to do a book and writes that although it’s probably an obsession:

This project is, however, the least I can do to raise public awareness about the plight of historic movie theaters.

Each theater featured in this set is unique and different from the next. Each theater has had very different stages in its life; each has its own storied history.

Check them out, beginning with Albion’s shuttered Bohm Theatre, in her Theaters of Michigan slideshow.

PS: If you want to learn more about Marjorie, check out our Michigan in Pictures photographer profile of Marjorie O’Brien.

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