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Mike's Letter

January 22, 2021

A Feminist Action Thriller,
plus the late, great Harry Chapin —
This Week at The Virtual State!
(A personal note from Michael Moore)

Friends —

Opening today at The Virtual State are two new movies I think you'll really enjoy!

Shadow in the Cloud

Who's up for a World War II "girl-power" feminist thriller action film that takes place on board a B-17 Flying Fortress that has an unexpected passenger or two? And what if that passenger was, well, that alien creep from the first "Alien" movie with Sigourney Weaver? Ok, more like the creepy thing's cousin. As if fighting the Nazis and the Japanese wasn't scary enough, now our female hero has to take on this Thing. This movie is an edge-of-your-seat genre collider, so unique that you'll be able to honestly say, "THIS is a movie I've never seen!" It's Taylor Swift meets "Twilight Zone" meets "30 Seconds Over Tokyo" meets, well, meets "Alien". And written and directed by a woman (Roseanne Liang) and starring the compelling actress from the "Kick-Ass" movies, Chloë Grace Moretz (who also had a beautiful role in Martin Scorcese's "Hugo"). This kind of movie is why one comes to the Traverse City Film Festival — because you simply aren't going to see this film in Howell or Grand Blanc or Troy (with all due respect to those wonderful towns, except Grand Blanc). This movie, I'm certain, will become a cult classic — it's already won the best film award at the 2020 Toronto Film Festival (the same award that launched an unknown Flint film back in 1989). Ever see a World War II movie written and directed by a woman? Exactly. That's why you wanna see "Shadow in the Cloud" — an 82-minute whackadoodle wonder-women gem of a film!

Harry Chapin: When in Doubt, Do Something

Disclosure Statement: I was a good friend of the late folksinger, Harry Chapin. He was killed in a horrific car accident when a semi-truck rear-ended his Volkswagen on the Long Island Expressway in 1981. His #1 hits included "Cat's in the Cradle" and "Taxi". He was nominated at the 1972 Grammys for "Best New Artist of the Year." He was also known as a humanitarian and political activist who convinced President Carter to form the first commission to take on hunger in America.

In 1976, I had an idea to start an alternative newspaper in Flint called the Flint Voice. I heard Harry was doing a concert in Grand Rapids, so I drove over to see if I could meet him and ask for his help. At the intermission, I snuck backstage to try and find him. A security guard gabbed me from behind and started to haul me away. Harry opened the door to his dressing room to see what the commotion was about. "He said he's here to meet with you about something," the guard snarled. "Well, then let him in so we can meet!" Harry replied.

The cop reluctantly released a very surprised me and I went inside the room with Harry. I told him about The Flint Voice and how I saw the fate of Flint that lay ahead. I asked him if he could come to Flint and do a benefit concert to help us. In the next second he said "Yes!"

He came to Flint for the next five years, performing 2-3 sold out shows each year. He was our sole major funder. We became friends, but more importantly, he became a mentor, teaching me how to stir a good pot to make things happen. He, too, wanted to save Flint, as hopeless as an idea that that would soon become. Back then, you couldn't fight GM or the politicians they bought. They had a plan to move as many jobs as possible to the non-union South and Mexico. Harry joined us in the protests and the press conferences, and he encouraged us not to give up. As he often said, "When in doubt, do something."

While I was watching this recently-made documentary on his life, it was getting near the end of the film, the scene where they talked about the car accident. The driver of the huge truck never hit his brakes, and when he plowed into the back of Harry's car, the VW exploded into a ball of fire. It was a story hard for me to listen to. In the next scene, Harry's brother Tom explained that it was impossible to identify his remains. The only way that they were able to do so, he said, "was because of a pocket watch they found in the wreckage. It said, 'To Harry Chapin from Michael Moore and the Flint Voice.'" At that moment, upon hearing this in the film, I was in shock, with no memory of ever hearing this before. It felt like my heart stopped. Stunned and sitting here alone in my apartment, I immediately broke down. I turned the movie off and closed my eyes. When I finally pulled myself together, I laid down on my bed and thought long and hard about Harry — and thanked him again for the part of his life he gave me. I called my younger sister who was with me that night I snuck backstage in Grand Rapids (and who was also one of the people who founded the Voice with me). When I told her what had just happened, she reminded me of something we have often discussed:

"Without Harry Chapin there would have been no Flint Voice, and no Flint Voice means no 'Roger & Me' and that most likely means none of these films you've made would have ever likely come to be. That your watch which you gave him was there with him in the end - and it was all that survived that tragedy - well, you know what to do with that." I broke down again. I still haven't finished watching the last five minutes of the film.

I'll do that when I watch it with you this weekend.

Thanks, all of you.

See you at the movies!


P.S. Two happy memories to leave with you... On the opening night of my Broadway show in 2017, Harry's widow, Sandy, and two of their now-grown children, came backstage to see me (no guard grabbed them! 😎) and they gave me a gift. It was the Detroit Red Wings player's jersey with Harry's name on the back that the Red Wings gave him one night at the old Olympia Stadium (he was in town to do a concert at the Music Hall). He had popped over beforehand to Olympia to sing the national anthems (US and Canadian) before the game and they gave him the jersey to wear. I hung it up backstage at the Belasco Theatre the next day, and it was the last thing I saw - and touched - each night before going out on stage.

My last Harry Chapin story... In 1979, one of those years he came to Flint to perform a benefit, I drove him after the concerts to Metro airport to catch an early morning flight. We arrived late (sooo not like me), and the next flight wasn't til later in the day. He carried a flight schedule manual with him. "The nearest airport for the next flight is Toronto," he said. "Ok," I said, "let's go!" And so we drove to Toronto! He made his flight, and then I'm thinking, heck, I'm in Toronto! So I drove into the city and picked up a newspaper to see what was playing, (something I'd been doing in Flint since I was 5, checking the movie ads page in the Flint Journal — I know, weird, but it kept me away from petty crime). And lo and behold, as I stood there in Toronto, it was Opening Day for "Apocalypse Now"! I had read that Coppola was only going to open it in NYC, LA and Toronto with the actual ending he wanted (I guess the compromise with the studio was that the rest of North America would see their preferred ending when it opened wide). So I was in luck! I went to the University Theater on Bloor Street (Canada's largest movie palace), bought a ticket, and took my seat. The usher wanted to warn me not to "be jolted by the sound of the movie." The lights went down and all of a sudden there's a loud "WOOSH-WOOSH-WOOSH" going all around the theater. It was mesmerizing. It was the first surround-sound film for me and it felt like I was literally inside an Army chopper in Vietnam, Martin Sheen on the screen in a seedy Saigon hotel, going mad. WOOSH-WOOSH-WOOSH-WOOSH-WOOSH...

It was one of those moments I can now point to when I knew what it was I wanted to do with my life. Ten years later from that very moment, I was sitting in the back row of a Telluride Film Festival theater, waiting for the lights to go down so a few hundred people who weren't able to get tickets to the official opening night film and were now stuck having to watch the premiere of my first film, "Roger & Me" — my two sisters sitting on each side of me, each reaching over to hold one of my hands, as I sat there saying a silent prayer of gratitude to all who had helped me (including Harry) — and throwing in a quick second prayer just out of fear!


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