Michael Moore is the saint of cinema. Since he first burst onto the screen with 1989’s Roger & Me, with his trademark wit, compassion, and motion picture panache, Moore has arguably set America’s public discourse more than any other single artist. 

Roger & Me documented the havoc wreaked on workers by corporate outsourcing and downsizing, framed through Moore’s dogged pursuit of General Motors’ CEO Roger Smith. Bowling for Columbine raised the issue of school shootings when mass murders by gun were still rare, instead of the regular occurrences they’ve now become. When the film won the Academy Award for Best Documentary of 2002, Moore delivered an acceptance speech like an Old Testament prophet:

“We like nonfiction and we live in fictitious times. We live in the time where we have fictitious election results that elect a fictitious President. We . . . live in a time where we have a man sending us to war for fictitious reasons . . . .  We are against this war, Mr. Bush. Shame on you, Mr. Bush, shame on you . . . .”

Moore followed this up with 2004’s Fahrenheit 9/11, which exposed the Bush regime’s lies about the Iraq War, winning the Cannes Film Festival’s Palme d’Or and earning a quarter of a billion dollars as possibly the most widely seen documentary in film history. His Oscar-nominated 2007 film, Sicko, tackled America’s health-care crisis, and the financial crisis received its close-up in 2009’s wry Capitalism: A Love Story, which helped inspire the Occupy Wall Street cause.

Now, Moore has returned with his first documentary in six years. The droll conceit of Where to Invade Next is that the Joint Chiefs of Staff “summon” Michael to the Pentagon and deploy him to “invade” countries around the world. But instead of looting them of their natural resources, such as oil, Moore brings their best ideas—including free university education, expanded leisure time, worker representation on boards of directors, school reform, punishment of bankers for recklessly wrecking economies, prison reform, and increased female involvement in government—back to the United States for Americans to put into practice.

The son of a GM auto plant worker, Moore was born in 1954 in Flint, Michigan, where lead poisoning in the water recently caused Mayor Karen Weaver to declare a state of emergency. Moore has denounced the decisions that led to this crisis and called for the arrest of Michigan’s Republican Governor, Rick Snyder.

“To poison all the children in an historic American city is no small feat. Even international terrorist organizations haven’t figured out yet how to do something on a magnitude like this,” he wrote in a letter to Snyder that became a petition. “But you did. Your staff and others knew that the water in the Flint River was poison . . . .”

After Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump’s demagogic call for banning Muslims from entering the United States in December, Moore picketed in front of Manhattan’s Trump Tower with a large sign declaring: “We are all Muslim.” In an open letter to the image-conscious billionaire on michaelmoore.com, he wrote, “I was raised to believe that we are all each other’s brother and sister, regardless of race, creed, or color. That means if you want to ban Muslims, you are first going to have to ban me.”

Recently, I spoke with Moore about Where to Invade Next, Bernie Sanders and the presidential campaign, socialism, American exceptionalism, his creative process, mass shootings, his onscreen proletarian persona, Black Lives Matter, the Occupy movement, and more.

 

Q: Love your new movie. How did you get the idea for Where to Invade Next?

Michael Moore: [Laughs.] Well, considering that’s all we’ve been doing for the last decade and a half, it wasn’t too much of a stretch. I just thought, “What if we started invading countries in a different manner?”

Q: And for different reasons?

Moore: And for different reasons—and not use violence.

Q: Where to Invade Next implies that it’s time for a woman President in the United States. What do you think of the campaigns of Hillary Clinton and Carly Fiorina?

Moore: Well, the movie implies that the countries that elect women—not just as President, but in their parliaments and legislatures, the more women that are elected, the better off people are. But that can’t happen with just one person in the White House, in this case. And I have a lot of problems with Hillary, obviously.

Q: What do you think of the candidacy of Bernie Sanders and what will come out of that campaign?

Moore: Here’s what I’ve been telling people: Eighty-one percent of the electorate next year is going to be either female, people of color, or young adults between the ages of eighteen and thirty-five. Eighty-one percent. The Republicans, especially Donald Trump, have alienated all three groups, so I think whoever has a D beside their name is going to win. So I encourage people to vote for the person they’d like to see President and not worry about who’s going to win. I think Bernie can win, I think Hillary could win. [On February 1, Moore officially endorsed Sanders.]

Q: What do you think of American exceptionalism?

Moore: The idea of American exceptionalism is like a very bad snakebite. And I see this movie as an antidote to that snakebite.

Q: As the Oscar winner for a 2002 documentary about gun violence, what do you think of the spate of U.S. mass shootings?

Moore: Well, I feel pretty bad about it. I tried to warn people about this, that this was going to get much worse. When I made Bowling for Columbine, school shootings were, you know, one or two a year. Now we have all kinds of mass shootings. We’re over 300 already for this year and I feel sad that Bowling for Columbine could open this Friday and feel like it was made last month.

Q: Michael, what took you so long to make Where to Invade Next? It’s been six years since Capitalism: A Love Story.

Moore: Well, I’m only interested in making a movie if it’s gonna be, you know, great. I wait and make sure that it’s going to be a great work of cinema and will reach people. So I don’t really think about the clock or the calendar, in that respect. Sometimes I’ve made a movie the year after I made the last one. Sometimes it takes longer.

Q: If Washington keeps on invading nations around the world, in the ways we’ve been seeing, will this cause the American empire to fall?

Moore: Oh, I believe that’s true. And I believe that we’re in deep trouble now because of the situation we’ve created in the Middle East. Deep, deep trouble. I fear a lot of people are going to suffer as a result of our actions. And I think we should be called to account. The fact that the Germans and other countries are willing to take in hundreds of thousands of refugees from a problem that we created is admirable for them—and shameful on our part.  

Q: One of the things that delights me about your films is your proletarian persona. I enjoy that very much. Other documentary filmmakers don’t have any narrator or don’t appear on camera. What do you want to say about that?  

Moore: I think there are many ways to make a documentary. And many of these ways work. I see myself basically as a stand-in for the audience. I want the audience to live vicariously through me as if they get to be there inside the corporate offices, or wherever I am.

With the persona that you refer to, maybe what’s different from other filmmakers is that I grew up in the working class. My father was a factory worker. And I have a high school education. So I process things differently. I don’t really know what a term paper is. I don’t know how to tell a story in a way that maybe would have been taught to me in college. For good or bad. So I’m acting much more viscerally from a working-class perspective. And as long as I stay true to that, I think my films will be different in that way and will hopefully be a voice for those who don’t have a chance to speak.

I get emails from people every day who live in the Flint, Michigans, of this country and this world and they’re grateful that one of us was able to break through to have our voice heard. So I feel a lot of responsibility for that. Believe me, I’m not putting down anybody who went to college—many days I regret that I didn’t go. But I do think it’s OK to have one or two filmmakers who tell their stories from a working-class perspective.     

Q: What do you want to say about the Black Lives Matter movement and the spate of police killings of unarmed blacks?

Moore: There are two great movements since I made my last film: Occupy Wall Street and Black Lives Matter. And I think that these two movements have really moved the ball down the field in terms of getting us to a better place. The relentlessness of it, the refusal to mince words or to compromise with those in power, has done us well. And I’m very happy that the Black Lives Matter movement is taking place and I think that the police are on notice.

Q: Where do you see the spirit of the Occupy movement going now?

Moore: It’s with us every day. Every politician talks about income inequality now. The reference to the 99 percent or the 1 percent is part of the lexicon. You know, that came out of that movement. It got everybody to think a little differently. The movement itself as an organization may not have continued but it did some incredible work in terms of turning people’s heads around and pointing us in the right direction.

Last month, in one of the national polls, Democrats were asked how they felt about capitalism and how they felt about socialism. Forty-six percent said that they had a positive feeling towards socialism. Thirty-seven percent said they had a positive feeling towards capitalism. That’s pretty amazing. I think this dates back to Occupy Wall Street.

Q: Is there anything you want to add about Where to Invade Next or any other subject?

Moore: See this movie in a movie theater. It’s much better to see it with a couple hundred other people. There’s a real different mood in the room and a real sense of solidarity. Don’t wait for it to be streaming or on home video. Come watch it with 200 of your fellow Americans. It’s a great experience.

 

L.A.-based film historian and critic Ed Rampell is The Progressive’s “Man in Hollywood.” His Progressive interview with America’s former Poet Laureate is in the new book Conversations with W.S. Merwin.

 

Section: 

Comments

I think Michael Moore has done exceptional work in raising the social consciousness of millions of Americans. He is a true national treasure and has proven his dedication to our people, and high degree of patriotism to the United States of America. Moore has proved - through his work - a capacity for showing us the unattractive, unvarnished truth and holding those responsible to public scrutiny. His dogged determination to raise public awareness will one day help us achieve a fair and justice driven humanitarian society.
Michael Moore stands out from the crowd. He brings attention to the problems we seem to ignore. Every documentary points us in our new direction. His amazing awards speech about a fictitious government blew me away. Honest and sincere, a person for the working class, the financially disposed, the unemployed. He makes us see what we choose to avoid. Thanks MM. We can't seem to do it without you. Film/write on!
Where To Invade Next? Michael Moore's newest pic, "Where to Invade Next" (currently showing locally) sums up many positive gifts that the Americn experience has given the world and how the world has taken to them. It demonstrates where America has turned its back on living with those very same gifts. It is a both positive and negative story that I often find muddled in the telling by the American democratic left (why is never answered) and is defiantly twisted and obscured by the American political right (due to self-centeredness and greed). Moore believes that we have to recognize those positive community-building gifts, bring them back home, and reestablish them in the soil where they where initially grown. The issues include education, K-5 nutrition and community-building, justice reform, social integration, the role of women in government among others. Be careful. Some of the story and our realization of lost opportunities along the way will bring tears to the toughest in the audience. Moore's journey of discovery is to make you fear for what may be lost forever. If you want to truly understand what progressive America is trying to talk about in the 2016 election then this movie is for you. And, if you want to understand Bernie and Hillary and what separates them? Now is your chance. It answers the question "who is really trying to bring the gifts back?".
People are much more interested in people than animals, but if people would care for the homes of animals, their families, food and water quality, then they would care more for people. Even young kids understand the right of respect. The 'How to Do It" is visible in the way God created wilderness with the highest number of species possible in the ecological systems in wilderness. Wildlife Corridor sanctuaries between fragmented islands of parks, refuges, forests, and preserves made along the shorelands of lakes, rivers, streams, and oceans would help immensely to allow animals to migrate and would supply permanent land as a repository of local plant seeds and wildlife offspring to rejuvenate adjacent land in need of its rightful local ecosystem species.
The Wildlife Corridor idea was stolen from Vietnamese Buddhists in 1969 in the spirit of Michael Moore's "Where to Invade Next?".

Add new comment

By submitting this form, you accept the Mollom privacy policy.

More

Labor leader, civil rights activist, feminist, and living legend.

You don't get more trustworthy than the University of Washington, right? Nightmarish.

By Wendell Berry

Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front

Love the quick profit, the annual raise,
vacation with pay. Want more 
of everything ready made. Be afraid 
to know your neighbors and to die.
And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery 
any more. Your mind will be punched in a card 
and shut away in a little drawer.
When they want you to buy something 
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know. 
So, friends, every day do something
that won’t compute. Love the Lord. 
Love the world. Work for nothing. 
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it. 
Denounce the government and embrace 
the flag. Hope to live in that free 
republic for which it stands. 
Give your approval to all you cannot
understand. Praise ignorance, for what man 
has not encountered he has not destroyed.
Ask the questions that have no answers. 
Invest in the millennium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.


Say that the leaves are harvested 
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.
Put your faith in the two inches of humus 
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.
Listen to carrion—put your ear
close, and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come. 
Expect the end of the world. Laugh. 
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts. 
So long as women do not go cheap 
for power, please women more than men.
Ask yourself: Will this satisfy 
a woman satisfied to bear a child?
Will this disturb the sleep 
of a woman near to giving birth? 
Go with your love to the fields.
Lie easy in the shade. Rest your head 
in her lap. Swear allegiance 
to what is nighest your thoughts.
As soon as the generals and the politicos 
can predict the motions of your mind, 
lose it. Leave it as a sign 
to mark the false trail, the way 
you didn’t go. Be like the fox 
who makes more tracks than necessary, 
some in the wrong direction.
Practice resurrection.

Wendell Berry is a poet, farmer, and environmentalist in Kentucky. This poem, first published in 1973, is reprinted by permission of the author and appears in his “New Collected Poems” (Counterpoint).


Public School Shakedown

Progressive Media Project

Newsletter