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michael moore and susan sarandon
Michael Moore & Susan Sarandon at the Traverse City Film Festival | Jane Boursaw Photo

The 8th Annual Traverse City Film Festival is well underway, and it’s shaping up to the best film fest yet! As always, the crowds are polite and friendly, the films are superb, and it’s been fun meeting new people and seeing old friends. I’ve even met some old friends from Twitter and Facebook that I’ve never met in person before. Fun!

Susan Sarandon flew in from New York with her dog Penny (@mspennypuppy on Twitter), and yesterday I caught a Q&A session with her and Michael Moore, and she also answered questions following Thelma & Louise and her new film, Robot and Frank. Awesome. I’ll write more about all of this coming up, but it’s such a thrill to have her at the film festival.

Susan Sarandon and Penny at the Traverse City Film Festival | Jane Boursaw Photo

I caught a few films before the fest officially started – screenings for volunteers, Friends, and sponsors that are some of the best movies I’ve seen this year. I’ll write more about these films later, but here’s a quick rundown of these and a few others:

The Intouchables. Words can’t describe the magic of this French film, other than to say it’s about a wealthy paralyzed older guy in Paris and a younger black guy from a poor family. Though very different, they connect in a way that helps them both. It’s based on a true story, and the real-life people are shown over the end credits. Always love that.

Burn: One Year on the Front Lines of the Battle to Save Detroit: A documentary about the Detroit fire department and how they’re trying to survive amidst budget cuts, failing equipment, fewer firefighters, and way, WAY more fires since Detroit’s decline. The filmmakers and some of the firefighters were there and answered questions about this heartbreaking, but hopeful film. The filmmakers are still in fundraising mode, so hop over to their site and donate!

The Queen of Versailles: A documentary that follows a billionaire couple from riches to rags. Dave Siegel was the CEO of Westgate Resorts, which as I understand it was basically a time-share business that borrowed against new sales to fund new developments, the latest being in Las Vegas. His wife, Jackie, is by all accounts a trophy wife, but as the film goes on, you get the feeling she really is a compassionate and caring person who’s just caught up in the extreme excess of their lives. They started building a 90,000 sq ft home in Florida modeled after Versailles (more here), but during the past few years, the economic crisis brought his business and their lavish lifestyle to a screeching halt.

Don’t Stop Believin’: Everyman’s Journey: A documentary about the band Journey and how they picked a young Filipino guy off YouTube to be their new lead singer. Arnel Pineda had a rough life up to that point, and this amazing film that shows how good things do actually come to the talented and hopeful hard workers among us.

Searching for Sugar Man: A documentary about a singer named Rodriguez who lived and performed in Detroit around 1970. Everyone (record producers, etc.) thought he’d be the next Bob Dylan, but nobody bought his albums, and he disappeared into obscurity until a bootleg album showed up in South Africa and the people went nuts for him there.

Michael Moore and Rodriguez, star of Searching for Sugar Man, at the Traverse City Film Festival 2012 | Jane Boursaw Photo

There was an unsubstantiated rumor that he’d killed himself on stage in 1971, which wasn’t true, and turns out he’s been living in Detroit all these years, working as a construction worker and raising three daughters. After someone tracks him down, he ends up going to South Africa in the late 1990’s and doing a concert where again, the people just went nuts for him – like Elvis coming back from the dead. Now he’s touring again, and it sounds like a record deal is in the works. I wondered during the film if we’d get a surprise afterwards, and sure enough, Rodriguez was actually there and answered questions. Best opening night film ever.

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11 COMMENTS

  1. These all sound very promising. I’m going have to start a list, based on all your new recommendations. Lucky you to be at the festival – have fun! Can’t wait to hear more.

  2. I saw Searching for Sugarman a couple weeks ago and thought it was a fascinating story. I did wish that the “search” went a little deeper. I actually thought what Michael Moore would have done with the money-side (apparently missing royalties) of the story. Very cool that Rodriguez showed up. His albums have been reissued in America in the last few years (another part of the story that will overlooked somewhat in the film).

    • I will write up more about her trip after film fest madness, but the more I think about it, the more I see how gracious and charming and funny she is. To go outside the theater and talk to folks in line who couldn’t make it in… and she had a very busy day, and yet happily answered questions tirelessly after each film.

      Also, when she and Michael went to lunch, she learned that a woman had been on the phone to her husband in Afghanistan, so Susan had her sit in their booth and take pictures with her to send to him. So sweet. And of course, Penny Puppy is totally adorable.

  3. Lucky, lucky you. I love Susan Surandan. Thanks for the blurb on the Journey film. They are really my all time favorite band. Their music got me through a rough year when my father died when I was a teen (Escape: Don’t Stop Believin’) and Faithfully was our official first dance song at our wedding reception. I was so excited to see them on the Today Show last year. However, I have to admit, this lead singer made me want to stick a rock in my ears. I wanted to like him because I knew his hard luck story and then being plucked litterally from the Internet as the new front man.  I’m a Journey “truist,” I guess. No one will ever be as good as Steve Perry, although the subsequent Steve came pretty close. This guy, not so much, sorry to say.

    • Good to read the other side of the story. I didn’t have a lot of experience with Journey other than hearing them on the radio during my high school and college years, but I’ve heard similar things from other Steve Perry fans.

      And here’s a completely lame question and shows how little I know about the band: What happened to Steve Perry? They didn’t say much about him in the film, other than Arnel and the others noting that he was jumping into some very big shoes.

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