Something important happened today in Manistee. On its surface, that something had to do with Manistee’s decrepit and shuttered old movie theater, the Vogue Theatre. But looking deeper, the event really had more to do with igniting Manistee’s spirit, because, as improbable as it seems, when people head to a small town downtown to see a film, that simple act can bring about remarkable change. We saw it happen in Traverse City with the State Theatre, we’re seeing it happen in Frankfort with the Garden Theater. And now we’re going to see the effect of a revived movie house, a lit-up marquee, in downtown Manistee.
The announcement came at about 11:30 a.m., February 9, 2011, when Michael Moore, accompanied by local economic development people, pulled up to the curb in front of the Vogue. About 100-plus people had gathered beneath the Vogue’s tattered marquee to hear the details, despite the 10-degree temp and stiff wind blowing snow in off Lake Michigan a few blocks away. The conditions, though, seemed especially apt for the event—in the very heart of winter, people head into the cold and show their mettle to support a hopeful project.
What Moore outlined was a project very similar to the State Theatre in scope and structure. The Vogue is now owned by a nonprofit, in this case the Downtown Development Authority, and he proposed essentially a broad and energetic community workbee to resurrect the glory of the theater. Moore wants to renovate 13 community theaters in Michigan.
One caution he made clear: don’t view the Vogue’s resurrection as a chance to cash in on a public works construction project. This is not about getting a contract for carpeting, or selling a bunch of theater seats. “The economic benefits will happen in other ways,” Moore said. People will fill restaurants, bars and bookstores that stay open late. “That’s why our architect at the State donated his services. That’s why the general contractor worked for free. Not a single tax dollar went into the State Theatre,” Moore said.
Michael Moore (left) and Tim Ervin, economic development official.
If you haven’t heard Moore speak, you should take the opportunity because he’s good at it. Standing there with his jacket unzipped, his trademark ballcap pulled tight against the wind, he spoke for about a half hour without notes and was in fine form. “We [the State Theatre group] want Manistee to be our brother … uh, and our sister … don’t ask me to explain the biology of that,” he said. The crowd laughed. A guy in the crowd started occasionally incanting, “yeah Brother, yeah Brother, yeah Brother,” to punctuate Moore’s talk.
At one point, Moore asked everybody to raise a hand and take a pledge to renovate the Vogue. I don’t know if it was totally spontaneous (no notes) or if he had it all planned, but it was clever, the moment was fine and funny, and you had the sense nobody was aware of the cold at that point.
“At the end of the Traverse City Film Festival this July, I want to be able to tell everybody to come down to Manistee to see a movie in the new Vogue Theatre,” Moore said.
He reminded everybody that the State Theatre was renovated in about six weeks, which included building a new balcony. The Vogue is completely possible too.
Moore wrapped up by making the first pledge, $10,000. “Don’t let me down now,” he said. “That’s a lot of money, and I didn’t run it past my wife this morning.”—Jeff Smith is editor of Traverse, Northern Michigan’s Magazine.
The downtown main street that a vibrant Vogue Theatre could help resurrect.