"Did you ever have the fantasy that if you won $20 million in the lottery that you would give it to all these organizations you really care about?" asks filmmaker Michael Moore, director of "Roger & Me." "Well, I've had that fantasy come true simply because millions of people came to see my movie."
Moore's Dog Eat Dog Films is giving $1 million, approximately half of its net profits, to start a fund that will benefit both groups and individuals. The annual yield from the fund will be close to $100,000.
Moore says the contributions, ranging from $1,000 to $20,000, come from the first proceeds from his 1989 surprise hit, "Roger & Me," which documents Moore's attempt to talk to Roger Smith, then chairman of General Motors Corp., and the reaction of Flint, Mich., residents to GM plant closings and layoffs.
This is not your typical tax-deductible donation, says Moore. "I'm giving away this money after taxes. I don't get a deduction. I worked this out with the lawyers. I'm paying taxes straight off. I pay the IRS whatever I'm supposed to and then create as much havoc as I can with what I have left."
Among the national recipients of his "havoc" are four performance artists denied grants by the National Endowment for the Arts; U.S. Senate candidate Henry Gantt of North Carolina, who is opposing Sen. Jesse Helms; and Earth First. Also receiving donations will be the National Union of the Homeless, the Jewish Women's Coalition to End the Occupation, the Jerusalem Press Service, the family of New York murder victim Yusuf Hawkins, the militant gay-rights activist group ACT-UP, the Nicaragua Network to monitor human rights abuses under the Chamorro regime, and several independent filmmakers.
Recipients from Flint include the workers at GM's AC-Rochester West division, which is under the threat of a strike; the four families shown being evicted in the movie; and Moore's choice in the Flint mayoral election next year. Other groups receiving donations are New Directions, a group promoting change within the United Auto Workers union; Herbert Cleaves, a community activist and candidate for County Board of Commissioners; and the Up and Out of Poverty Coalition. An additional $2,000 was raised for Flint's homeless shelters through Moore's personal appearances in area video stores.
Moore said he was compelled to make the film because he identified with the struggling workers of Flint. "I had been fired from my job. If I had had $3 million would the film be what it was? Would I have been compelled? I made the movie for certain political and social reasons. I think it's best not to have too much money around," says Moore of his motivation for giving this money away. "Of course I want the same things other people want, record albums or CDs, but there's not much really I personally want beyond a comfortable and safe life."
Moore says the selection process took "a couple of months. There was no grant application procedure. They're things I feel strongly about. I think I'll call them my 'idiot grants.' You know the opposite of the MacArthur Foundation -- those are the 'genius grants.' This money is going to all those who are surviving through all the idiocy we're going through in the '90s."
An Artful Business
The Washington law firm of Dow, Lohnes & Albertson has been nominated for a 1990 Business in the Arts Award sponsored by the Business Committee for the Arts and Forbes Magazine.
This year's 13 winners will be chosen from among 230 nominees nationwide on the basis of their innovative arts programs and their impact on the community. The arts award will be presented in October.
According to Dow, Lohnes partner Michael B. Goldstein, the 200-lawyer firm has a large general practice with offices in New York, Atlanta and Irvine, Calif., and is involved in the arts in several ways. "We're active as a law firm and individually," says Goldstein. "One of our partners, Arnold Lutzker, serves as general counsel of the Cultural Alliance, and another partner, Daniel Toohey, is a trustee of the Folger and the Washington Opera." Goldstein is general counsel to the Washington Ballet and a member of the ballet's executive board. "Generally the organizations seeking our help are very small and typically don't have the resources for any kind of legal services. We provide assistance with leases or dealing with a grant or tax status," he said.
"From our perspective we're a corporate citizen of D.C.," says Goldstein. "We have skills to offer persons who can't afford counsel and we provide them with that, as do all law firms. But we also provide support to organizations that are doing something for Washington. And it's a lot of fun."