One of just three showings in the country of Michael Moore’s new documentary, “Where to Invade Next?” took place in Chicago during the 41st Annual Chicago International Film Festival on Friday, October 23, 2015.
What has lured Michael Moore, the documentary genre’s most entertaining rabble-rouser, back to feature films after a six-year hiatus? Only the future of his country, naturally. Where To Invade Next is a light-hearted, informative, and subversive comedy in which Moore, playing the role of “invader,” visits a host of nations (Tunisia, Iceland, Germany, France, Italy, Slovenia, et. al.) to learn how the U.S. could improve in coping with similar problems. The director of Fahrenheit 9/11 and Bowling for Columbine is back with this hilarious, eye-opening call to arms. Where To Invade Next demonstrates that the solutions to America’s problems already exist in the world; those solutions are just waiting to be co-opted by the U.S..
The newest documentary offering from Moore—whose films have been among the most profitable documentaries ever produced—won the Founders’ Prize at this year’s Chicago Film Festival. Moore was present to accept it in person on October 23rd.
Attired in his usual rumpled just-fell-out-of-bed baseball cap, tennis shoes and casual gear, Moore looked over the group assembled at the AMC Theater on Friday, October 23rd at 7:00 p.m. and, noting the balcony, said, “It’s like aerobics to get up there.” He proceeded to say this was the first time a Midwestern audience had seen the film, as it had previously shown in the Hamptons and at the Toronto Film Festival, where it was widely praised (only 3 showings, to date).
As the film has not yet opened wide, the capsule above will suffice as a sneak peek, while the Q&A he offered to filmgoers on Friday, October 23rd, gives a look at Moore’s mindset now, 26 years after his film “Roger and Me” about the crash of the Detroit auto industry was filmed with the $58,000 Moore won in a settlement from “Mother Jones” magazine following his termination as its editor (for putting a fired auto-worker on the cover, rebelling against orders not to do so).
Q1: How can we in the United States get back our greatness?
A1: Sometimes it’s as simple as voting for a guy from Chicago whose middle name is Hussein. Seventy-eight % of this country is composed of women and minorities. You can turn off the angry white guy vote and concentrate on what this country is becoming.
Q2: (from Chaz Ebert, widow of Roger Ebert, functioning as moderator) Your film seems very patriotic…
A2: Will they say that on Fox News? (Laughs) I get death threats all the time. I get death threats and I’m happy to get them, because that means I can prepare. An AK47 went off in Rockford from some guy who wanted to assassinate me. His assassination list included Hillary Clinton, Janet Reno, and Rosie O’Donnell: a list of lesbians and me! I’m proud, but I’m puzzled.
Q3: You seem to be a one-man band. How much autonomy do you have in making your films and releasing your films?
A3: “Bowling for Columbine” was a Canadian release. “Sicko” was the first film made with American money out of the gate. Before then, from 1989 to 2007, money didn’t come to me. Then, the Weinsteins and Paramount got into distributing my films. Now, these are entities that I don’t believe in. Money is the most important thing to them. I’ve done nothing but make them money—half a billion dollars worldwide. What is that old saying: “A capitalist will sell you the rope to hang yourself if it makes them a buck.” For this film, my agent broke the Number One Rule for agents, which is not to invest in your clients’ films and his company loaned me the money to make the film.
Q4: You and Steve James (“Hoop Dreams”) started showing the industry that a documentary could be entertaining. Do you have any advice today for documentary filmmakers?
A4: I hate the term documentarian. It’s just a film. We need to honor that. We need to tell a story, as with “An Inconvenient Truth” or Errol James’ work. I’m always making this for the audience. This isn’t finished without them. I’m just their stand-in. It’s just really not what I wanted to do with this body (laughs), making myself 50 feet high. I didn’t make my first documentary until the age of 35. Because of Roger (Ebert0 going to the mat for us, the world of making documentaries changed. Both Gene and Roger teamed up in 1989 and supported me and Spike Lee’s “Do the Right Thing.” I was discovered by Roger at Telluride. He was supposed to be going to the Opening Night film, “The Cook, the Thief, His Wife and Her Lover.” They put up opposite the opening night movie in a tiny theater at 1:00 p.m. (the Nugget). But Roger and I found each other at the food in the middle of the street. I begged him to come see my film and he seemed to be offended that I’d pushed so hard, as this was its world premiere, but when he came, he looked at me and said, “Don’t say a word. I’m only here because there was a crazy look in your eyes. Ebert took this picture of me (my first fan picture) with his little camera. The next day, in the Chicago paper, he wrote that “Roger & Me” was “One of the best films I’ve seen in the last 10 years.” So, I really owe a debt of gratitude to Roger Ebert, your late husband.
Q5: Why did you choose to make this movie?
A5: People would say to me, “You point out all the problems we have, but you never point out the solutions.” A documentary is to give information. I wanted to show what’s wrong in the U.S. but none of the film is shot in the United States, except for the archival footage. And I wanted to pick the flowers, not the weeds. It’s been really well received. People say, “It’s a happier film. Mike’s in a better mood…” I think it’s going to reach a lot of people. Obviously, there are 20% on the far right who will never like anything I do. I think I didn’t make this film for a long time because it’s so unbelievable when you go out and find out how other countries deal with the same problems we face. Check my website for factual accuracy.
Q6: What will your next film be?
A6: I’ve written 2 screenplays and my next film may be a fiction film.
Q7: You visit Germany in the film. What did you think about Germany’s austerity, vis-a-vis Greece?
A7: There’s no Paradise among these countries. My personal opinion is that Germany has been a little bit harsh on Greece, but it’s amazing what the Germans are doing to take in refugees. They are doing some of the most amazing things, including teaching their young people about the Holocaust. They actually have little plaques embedded in the sidewalks outside the homes that were confiscated by Nazis in World War II giving the names of the original Jewish owners. They are not trying to keep their past secret, they are trying to change. If they can change their way of thinking around, certainly we can; we’re not Nazis. I don’t want that to be our new national motto: “We’re not Nazis! We can do better!” (laughs)
Q8: You support the union and there are union logos at the bottom of the screen at the end of the film. Are your films all staffed by union members?
A8: All my films have been made with union workers. During the film on “Capitalism”, I was finally able to convince the camera and sound people to join their unions. I’m a big supporter of people joining unions. There is a tip of the hat in the film to May Day and Chicago, because Chicago in 1886 was the birthplace of the union movement.