the 1980s began, Michael Moore was the crusading editor of the
Flint Voice, a low-budget alternative newspaper with a three-person
staff, a circulation of fewer than 10,000 � and a knack for ruffling
the feathers of the citys political and cultural establishment.
later, he was a national celebrity, having just been paid $3 million
by a major Hollywood studio to present a film about his hometown
that would be seen and talked about by millions worldwide � and
would be both praised and scorned by its subjects.
brought to Flint by Roger & Me � Moores
scathingly satirical mockumentary about the city and
its relationship with General Motors � merely continued the conflicted
relationship between the leftist journalist-turned-moviemaker
and the community he would make (in)famous.
At the Flint
Voice (which was renamed the Michigan Voice as it achieved a statewide
following), Moore set out to expose police wrongdoing, campaign
abuses and other injustices on behalf of the communitys
disenfranchised. Before that, barely
Moore, maker and star of 'Roger & Me,' talks to television
newsman Joel Feick at a celebratory party following the
1989 world premiere of the movie at Showcase Cinemas in
out of high
school in the early 70s, he had been a maverick member of
the Davison Board of Education.
exploits with the Voice led to his hiring, in 1986 at age 31,
as editor of the national alternative magazine Mother Jones. But
his first brush with national renown was short and contentious,
and within months he was fired and back in Flint, beginning a
new project with the working title of Hometown.
Moore and a small group of friends between 1987 and the summer
of 89 for about $200,000, the movie that became Roger
& Me used the gimmick of Moores effort to meet
then-GM president Roger Smith to weave an account of the devastating
effects of the closings of three of the automakers local
covers such happenings as the hasty demise of AutoWorld, attempts
by local officials to drum up new business, and efforts by autoworkers
and others to find new livelihoods. Among the movies more
memorable figures were a process server whose business thrived
in the wake of the economic turndown, and an otherwise unemployed
woman who killed rabbits to sell their skins for profit.
modest intentions for Roger & Me suddenly became
ambitious when critics hailed the film in screenings at influential
festivals in Telluride, Colo., and Toronto. In October 1989, Warner
Bros. announced the $3-million distribution agreement; the sum
was unusually high for a first-time film maker.
contained some stipulations requested by Moore, most notably that
Warner Bros. give $25,000 to be divided among four families shown
in the film being evicted from their homes. Another requirement
by Moore was that the studio agree to hold the films commercial
theatrical world premiere in Flint.
Dec. 19, 1989, Roger & Me premiered on all 14
screens at Showcase Cinemas in Burton, where patrons were treated
to free popcorn. A large media contingent included journalists
from London, New York, Los Angeles and Chicago.
A few weeks
later, TV talk king Phil Donahue would come to town and film two
shows during a town hall-type discussion with Moore and hundreds
of local residents at Whiting Auditorium.
wed be driving the film around in a van, showing it at some
union halls, Moore said the night of the premiere. But
Ill take this.
notables at the premiere were not so jubilant.
it was laughing at people, and I was embarrassed by that to a
degree, said Lawrence P. Ford, president of the Flint Area
Chamber of Commerce.
& Me won several major critics awards, but a backlash
against the film began as Moores nonadherence to a traditional
chronological narrative was questioned in newspaper reports and
in an opinion piece by influential critic Pauline Kael.
may have scuttled hopes for an Academy Award nomination for the
film as best documentary, but Roger & Me did gross
more than $10 million in theaters worldwide, at the time a record
for an American nonconcert documentary.