TCFF 2013: Day 6 – ‘Mike’s Surprise’ and ‘Austenland’

Mike's Surprise

Michael Moore at Mike’s Surprise

Every year, we all wonder what Michael Moore will do for “Mike’s Surprise,” the annual mystery screening where anything could happen. Last year, we took a walk around the block. This year, Michael joked that we were going to get down and do 20 push-ups.

Instead, we got to see “Bowling for Columbine,” Michael’s 2002 documentary that explores the roots of America’s propensity for gun violence. Where does it come from? Why are we more violent the other countries? What are we afraid of?

When he announced what we’d be seeing, he joked, “We’ll pause now for people who want to get up and leave. ‘What? I’ve seen that movie three times. I’d rather be seeing a Korean film right now.'”

He added that we’d have a discussion about the film afterwards, and he hoped we’d all had lunch. “I’ll watch half the movie and then be cooking a big pot of chili out in the lobby,” he quipped.

After the Newtown, Connecticut shooting last year, Michael made an appearance on “Piers Morgan Live” and said it would be his last appearance anywhere to talk about gun violence.

“I said, ‘Don’t call me anymore.’ Because I knew [the violence] would keep happening, and I didn’t want to be the pundit to talk about the same thing over and over. I didn’t want to be the ‘killing expert’ for the rest of my life. I have nothing else to say on this issue.”

And the fact that “Bowling for Columbine,” which won an Oscar for Best Documentary, is still relevant today is the ‘sickest, saddest thing,’ he noted.

After the film was released, Michael noted that he was “ex-communicated” from the National Rifle Association, “but I still have the beautiful leather jacket you get as a lifetime member.”

A few highlights from the Q&A:

On guns in homes: “You will not defend yourself with a gun in your house unless you go to the firing range once a week, and then practice in the dark in your house. If you are worried about your safety, go get a dog.”

On breaking the pattern of violence: “We need to teach our kids that being nonviolent takes incredible strength and bravery.”

On the media scaring us 24/7: “You can’t just live in fear all the time that something is going to happen.”

On what he would do if confronted with violence: “I like to think that instead of ducking and running, I would charge the guy. My dad’s generation, that’s what they would have done. They did it on beach after beach. But that’s not who we are anymore. We expect someone else to save us.”

On an African American woman’s comment that people stare at her when she walks down the street in Traverse City: “If they’re looking at you, they’re probably happy to see you. I’ve found this place to be an accepting place. [Then he joked] First of all, I’m here…

On whether he can talk about his next project: “No, I can’t. But you’ll be happy. If I time it right, you’ll see it here first at ‘Mike’s Surprise,’ before anyone else knows about it.”

On changing America’s trend of violence: “If everyone is making $60,000 a year, you don’t have a lot of crime or violence … we need to restructure our whole economic system. If we work towards middle class wages, we would be in better shape.”

On staying positive: “I’m not a cynic. I’m an optimist, and I think we can all pull together for the good of the country.”

JJ Feild of "Austenland"

JJ Feild during a Q&A following “Austenland” | Jane Boursaw Photo

I also had the opportunity to see the closing night film, “Austenland,” a romantic comedy starring Keri Russell as 30-something Jane Hayes, a seemingly normal woman with a secret: her obsession with Mr. Darcy as played by Colin Firth in the BBC adaptation of “Pride and Prejudice.” It’s ruining her love life, because no real man can compare.

But when Jane decides to spend her life savings on a trip to an English resort catering to Austen-crazed women, Jane’s fantasies of meeting the perfect Regency-era gentleman suddenly become more real than she ever could have imagined.

During the Q&A session, JJ Feild, who played Mr. Henry Nobley in the film (the Mr. Darcy equivalent), was available to answer questions.

A few highlights: 

On the Royal Family: “[Americans] love the Royal Family, don’t you? If you took a poll in England, they’d say they’re just a big tourist attraction … but I’ve got a soft spot for Prince Charles because he has an organic farm and seems like he has real principles.”

On the British accent: “If you articulate a little, people think you sound intelligent.”

On meeting Colin Firth: “I was slightly in awe. He’s a fantastic guy. [During the intense five-week filming of “The King’s Speech”], he stood up for the entire crew and said, ‘I’m not working unless everyone gets treated better.”

On his first job: “I played a vomiting drug addict in one scene of a really bad cop show.”

On sitting next to Michael Moore on a plane once: “We didn’t talk, but you had your cap on. It was a memorable journey. But here we are full circle at the Traverse City Film Festival. I went to Sundance and didn’t get to meet Robert Redford, but here I get to meet you.” [To which Michael joked, “It’s not exactly the equivalent.”]

On the brilliance of Jennifer Coolidge in “Austenland”: Everything she said was was improvised. And the needlepoint scene where she gets her gloves caught in the stitching was real. She said, ‘I did it for real. ‘Oh crap, I can’t sew!'”

On Stephenie Meyer producing the film: “She loves Jane Austen. She wanted to make a film that really cherished and honored Austen in a way that was also funny.”

On his favorite experience filming the movie: “Keri Russell was five months pregnant, so there were insurance issues. But she wanted to go for it. For the horse-riding scene, I had to lift her while tearing her dress, and she just laughed the entire time. That was my funnest scene to shoot.”