Here Comes Trouble: Stories from My Life

"Outstanding…Moore Triumphs! Publishers Weekly

Mike's Letter

September 1st, 1999 12:00 AM

Mayor Giuliani

Dear friends

Last Wednesday, all the national Prime Time Emmy nominees who are based in the New York area were invited by Mayor Giuliani to a ceremony at city hall to receive an "official Emmy certificate" from the Mayor.

As you may recall, the Mayor's Office for Film and Television had stripped us of our shooting permits earlier this year when we were doing a story on one of the city's richest men (who also owned the company cited by the EPA as the #1 toxic air polluter in the country.) Our show, "The Awful Truth," was effectively shut down. Within hours we got ourselves the top First Amendment lawyer in the country to do battle with the Mayor. The Mayor blinked, and the next day our permits were restored.

So, you can imagine the scene at city hall last Wednesday as the Mayor was required to hand me my certificate and shake my hand. In his opening remarks, he singled me out in the audience and asked if this show he was honoring me for today was the same show he shut down earlier in the year. I said, "Yes, Mr. Mayor," and the ceremony began.

Things started to come unglued when Lorraine Bracco, a nominee for Best Actress in "The Sopranos," ascended to the stage, took her certificate from Giuliani, and shouted "Michael Moore, keep it up!" (my wife says there was also some profession of "love," but I think she's just trying to build up my low self-esteem). Giuliani, a bit stunned by her comments, told
Bracco (she plays a shrink on "The Sopranos"), "You should analyze him, he needs it." Bracco quickly replied, "Hey, I'll do whatever he needs -- DON'T GIVE UP THE FIGHT MIKE!"

There were eight people nominated from our show (all the writers and producers), so eight times the Mayor had to say, "The Awful Truth with Michael Moore." Finally, my name was called. As I approached Giuliani, he held out his hand for a shake. Instead, I put him in a headlock and gave him two noogies (for those of you who think I'm now making things up, please check last Thursday's New York Times.)

I couldn't tell, looking out of the corner of my eye, if his security detail was about to tackle me and beat me senseless with a plunger. I decided it was best to let the Mayor go. He then swiped the ball cap from my head. I swiped it back. Finally, I left him with these tender words: "Hillary sends her love."

Well, the Emmys for our category were handed out Saturday night in Pasadena,
and, I'm sorry to report, we did not win one of those little gold statues. The two traditional documentary shows on PBS won, but, as the cliche goes, it was an honor just to be nominated. Kathleen and I did not attend the ceremonies as we were taking our daughter to college for the first time on Saturday. What a great day that was -- but, boy, do we miss her! We're trying to come up with the best excuse to drive back up and see her this month ("We thought you might need these light bulbs!"), so if you have any ideas that you think will work, please let us know.

Ten years ago tonight, I showed "Roger & Me" to an audience for the first time. It was the opening night of the Telluride Film Festival and my friends and I had scraped just enough money together to make the trip to Colorado. We were up all night waiting for the print at the lab and barely made the 7am plane out of LaGuardia. When we arrived, we knew no one. We were all from Flint, a bunch of fish out of whatever it is that fish are supposed to be in.

Our film was scheduled to play at the same time the big opening night gala film was playing down the street in the opera hall. You pay hundreds of dollars extra just to go to that shindig, and that's what it appeared like everyone was doing as the opera place had a line going out the door. I saw Roger Ebert and introduced myself to him. I invited him to come down to see our film which was starting in 15 minutes.

"I'll see it tomorrow," he assured me. "I'm going in to the opening night gala."

I don't know what got into me, but I blurted out something like, "No! Don't! You have to be at the first screening of our film!"

You could see him physically step back a couple of paces, and a look, best described as an acute concern for his safety, overcame him.

"Look," he replied, "I paid $800 to go to this gala. I'm not going to throw that away. I'll see your film tomorrow."

"But it won't be the same tomorrow. Tonight is when it's happening. Tonight is the night you HAVE to see my movie. You won't be sorry."

"I'll see you tomorrow." He shook his head in wonderment, and strode off to the entrance of the opera hall. The gang and I headed down the street to our smaller, dingier theatre. There was a decent crowd inside. I couldn't get over what a jerk I had made of myself to Ebert. About 30 seconds before showtime, I looked out the window and saw the figure of a man making his way toward our theatre.

It was Roger Ebert.

I yelled to the projectionist, "Don't start the movie!" Ebert came in, saw me, and said, "There was something in the look on your face that told me I should see this tonight. You just cost me hundreds of dollars."

He went in and took his seat, the theatre darkened, the movie began, and my life has not been the same since. My two sisters sat on each side of me, clutching the edge of their seats in what, they told me later, was a horrible sense that the movie was going to suck and they didn't want to see me humiliated. We all still have a good laugh over that one.

The next morning, I was walking down the sidewalk when I heard a man shout out, "Michael, can I get your picture?" It was Ebert again, sitting in an outdoor cafe. He held up one of those little instamatics and snapped a picture. What's this about, I thought. I asked him if he liked the film. "You'll have to wait and read the review."

Well, the next day the wire services sent out the review to papers across the country. Ebert called the film one of the best he had seen in a long time. Word spread quickly, the shows at Telluride sold out, more shows were added, setting a record for the festival. We sold the rest of our t-shirts so we could afford the plane tickets back home.

I could go on and on about the whole experience with "Roger & Me", and I may someday, but for now I just want to thank those of you who have supported my work ever since that day. I take none of this for granted, and I feel quite privileged to be able to do what I do now. Not a day goes by where I don't get at least one letter from some student in some high school or college across America telling me that they watched my film today in class. I am always touched by these letters and still can't believe at times that any of this has really happened or, worse, that it really matters.

My friend, Ben Hamper (he, too, from Flint, author of the bestseller, "Rivethead"), and I were instant messaging each other today. "It's just luck," he wrote, "that anyone outside of Flint ever saw any of our stuff."

"Pure luck," I wrote back. "Think of all the other people we know in Flint who are so talented and will never have their voice heard. And I think of all these lousy films I see these days, every one of them the same as the last one we saw, not an original idea among them, it's just such a shame that, the people we know who should have an audience, don't"

"That's why I like sports," Ben concluded. "It is based purely on your talent. You can't imitate it or fake it. You either got it or you don't, and if you do, it don't matter where you're from."

Maybe that's why Flint has produced more players on professional sports teams than any other city in the country. 13 former Flint citizens now play in the NBA, NFL, NHL, and Major League Baseball. That used to be the only way to escape the company town that tried to choke any sign of creativity or independence out of you. And the company doesn't like it if you do get out and tell the world what's happening.

That night, after the first showing of "Roger & Me," we went to celebrate at a local Telluride restaurant. A festival organizer came up to me and pointed to a man over at the bar. "I think you should probably know, that man over there is from General Motors. He was sent here to see what this was all about."

What's he got to worry about, I thought? Who's ever going to see a documentary!

My sincere thanks once again to all of you.


Michael Moore

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