The Traverse City Film Festival (TCFF) announced Tuesday afternoon that it had received a $ 933,000 grant “as part of a $ 16.5 billion relief bill passed by Congress to help thousands of cinemas, performance halls, museums and concert halls across the country. TCFF founder Michael Moore called the grant “the best news we’ve received in the past year and a half” and said The teleprinter it should allow TCFF to bring the State Theater and Bijou by the Bay back online this year – with the possibility of a miniature version of the film festival for this winter.
Moore says top priorities include “protecting our theaters from COVID” – especially with ventilation and airflow systems “where air doesn’t circulate in the theater for hours” – and repair or upgrading theater equipment that was dormant during the pandemic, fixing flooding issues in the State Theater basement, and hiring staff.
On the topic of the flooding, Moore says he’s been going back and forth with a variety of different civil engineers and architects and ultimately landed on a team that we think will do the right thing. [for our building]. “
“We have just had our third meeting with them [Tuesday] morning, ”Moore says of entrepreneurs. “We need to get the permits and do a number of things, but listening to them today, if I had to guess and if everything is going well, we should have everything ready by Labor Day.”
Projected costs for the project, Moore continues, have so far “been all over the map, ranging from $ 40,000 to $ 300,000” to save the basement and foundations of the building. “It’s because there are like three different ways to do it,” he explains, including short and long term solutions. One of Moore’s main hopes for the grant money is that it will give TCFF the option of choosing a more expensive – but more permanent – repair.
“Don’t kick the box on the road, but fix it now so that in 2050 they don’t have to deal with it the same way we do,” he says. . “If that means spending another month working and $ 100,000 more, I think some responsible people in the community would support doing it that way. “
With the US box office just having its biggest weekend since the pandemic began, Moore says it’s clear people “want to get out of the house and go to the movies.” He expects to share news of the reopening of the State and the Bijou as soon as possible. What about a return to the film festival itself? It could happen soon too.
“I would say that in July, once we get a feel for the contractors and everyone else on their schedules, we can get a good idea of when the theaters will reopen,” Moore said. “Le Bijou could open before the state, just because of the water problem. And with this money, maybe we won’t wait until next summer [to bring the film festival back]. Maybe we will have a mini festival in the winter. It’s a possibility.
When the theaters reopen, Moore is adamant that vaccines will be needed: “We’ll have it just like the first concert at Madison Square Garden last week with the Foo Fighters, and just like the first Broadway show that opened. Sunday night with Bruce Springsteen. If you haven’t been vaccinated, you’ll need to find something else to do with your time.
One of the biggest question marks around the return of TCFF and its theaters is the plight of the organization’s staff. TCFF laid off its paid staff at the start of the pandemic, and Moore has previously declined to answer questions about whether key employees – including chief executive Susan Fisher and artistic director Meg Weichman – would be rehired when the organization reboots. .
On June 21, TCFF publicly posted a new job posting, seeking a Managing Director for State and Jewel – an action that only further clouded the situation of four key staff members. pre-pandemic. State Theater chief executive Louis Dickinson, who held the title until the pandemic closed, confirms that he was never notified of his termination, nor was he asked to “perform. a new request or to come back to the organization ”. Dickinson learned that a new general manager would be hired when Moore publicly announced the start of the job search.
Fisher and Weichman report similar situations.
“No full-time staff have been contacted by Michael or the board to return to his pre-leave job in March 2020, nor were we told that we were permanently laid off. of the organization, ”Fisher said.
“I can confirm that what Susan said is correct,” Weichman adds. “We were never officially released and no one told us anything. We felt like we were on leave.”
Kristen Messner, previously Director of Events and Volunteer Coordinator for TCFF, echoed comments from her former colleagues, noting that she had not received any communication from the organization and believed she was on leave.
Moore confirms he did not communicate with Dickinson or other former staff before posting the CEO position, saying he assumed most of the former employees had moved and would apply for the position if they were interested in joining the organization.
“No one is fired for a year and a half and says he’s fired,” he says. “I can cite those of the eight full-time employees who have already left and found other jobs. I will say this: that [job posting] has been in place for over a week, and the old staff of a year and a half ago, no one has applied for the job. I don’t know what that means; maybe they will do it again, maybe they will not. But, of course, it’s open to them, and it’s open to everyone.
He continues, “The people who were working in the theaters and the festival when we were forced to shut down are very good people, salt of the earth. You won’t find anyone who loves theaters more than Louis. Susan and Meg saved the festival in 2018 and 2019. The gratitude to them is immense. But I am for letting people decide what to do and what to do, without pressure.
Moore also says that TCFF will be reorganizing itself in the future, “in terms of how we have structured things in the management of theaters”, and that some jobs that existed with the organization before the pandemic – like the position of coordinator of theaters. full-time volunteers – will not exist anymore. Another priority for the grant money, he notes, is to ensure that the organization can resume operations without debt; Moore felt that the pre-pandemic organizational structure was not the right way to keep TCFF’s finances in the dark.
“What did we end up with, half a million dollars in debt?” he asks. “We have to be accountable to the community, and we can never let this happen again. Now, it is not the fault of the paid employees. This male stops with me. But we have a new board and a whole new operation, and me and the new board, we’ve been working really hard on how to structure this so that we don’t end up in the financial situation that we are in. we have found ourselves. We’ve talked and listened a lot with the community, in terms of what’s the best thing to make sure that we still have these theaters and that we still have the festival, and that’s more important than any individual. And that includes me.