It’s been six years since Michael Moore took to the big screen, and for anyone thinking he may have lost his rabble-rousing spirit and bombastic humor in the interim, guess again. “Where to Invade Next,” which finds Moore infiltrating numerous countries to investigate how they handle a wide range of social, economic and political issues, might just be his most uproarious and impassioned effort yet. If the reaction to the film at the Hamptons International Film Festival (HIFF) over the weekend is any indication — it was interrupted about a dozen times by huge bursts of applause — Moore might just have the biggest hit of his career on his hands.
In addition to screening his latest documentary at HIFF, Moore sat down with New York Film Critics Circle member Marshall Fine for the festival’s “A Conversation With…” discussion series. Sporting his trademark hat and zip-up sweatshirt, Moore was his typical firecracker self, rattling off sly quips left and right about politics and the state of America, though he was also quite relaxed and whole-heartedly optimistic, which just so happen to be two characteristics that make “Where to Invade Next” so enjoyable.
From remaining optimistic about our country’s future to revealing his love for death threats and Donald Trump, check out the highlights from Moore’s lengthy HIFF conversation below.
With “Where to Invade Next,” Moore wanted to make a film about America without ever stepping foot in it.
“The original idea was to go and invade other countries and steal things — other than oil — that we could use. And I would do it without firing a shot. I had three rules: Don’t shoot anybody, don’t take any oil and bring something back home that we can use…It became clear to us once we were invading these countries that it would be a much better movie if I made a movie about America without ever shooting a single frame of this movie in America. So that became a challenge. What would that movie look like? I liked the challenge of that. That seems almost impossible. I’m not interested in doing the same old movie and as a filmmaker I’m bored with that.”
Preserving Moore’s ignorance was key to the film’s success.
“It’s best that I don’t know a whole lot. It’s best that I’m ignorant going into it so that the reactions remain real. For this film, I had a basic outline, and one of my rules was that I wanted to find things I had no idea about…We heard things in the European way were better, but we had no idea to what extent. The producers and the field producers were told not to tell me much of anything. I have a basic outline of why I’m in Italy, let’s say, and that’s because over the years I’ve had Italians tell me about how much paid vacation they get — it’s outrageous.”
“But that’s all I know. I don’t know how many weeks it is or what they get, so when I’m interviewing that couple and she says to me in addition to these paid weeks of vacation that also when you get married the law mandates you get 15 days paid vacation for your honeymoon — the look on my face, which when you see the film is a complete ‘what the fuck?’ and ‘you’ve got to be shitting me,’ that’s real. I’m not an actor and I don’t want to act that. I don’t do any pre-interviews. I like it to happen random.”
Moore took six years off because he can’t be the only one speaking out.
“Well, in the last year and a half my father died and I got divorced. Everyone in the room has been through a death I’m sure of, and they say half the room has been through a divorce. But the real answer, in these six years, I wrote a book I’m very proud of, but I said at the end of ‘Capitalism: A Love Story’ that I’m tired of doing this. I don’t need to be the poster boy on FOX News. I need other things to happen. I need other people to get involved. I need other people to make movies. It just can’t be me doing it. I’m not the only one, but I sure seemed to be singled out as the devil. There’s two Michael Moores — the fictional one that’s been invented by Rush Limbaugh and FOX News and the right wing, and then there’s the real me.”
After so many life-threatening assaults, Moore has come to like death threats.
“I think after I gave that speech at the Oscars and made ‘Fahrenheit 9/11’ the next year, I got to a point where I would like death threats because it was a death threat. I learned from the security people that that’s a good thing, because it cathartically gets the hate out and they don’t need to do anything. The threats are the good thing. A person who is going to hurt you does not send you a note [laughs]. So I’m a big fan of death threats!”
“I suffered through half a dozen assaults, from people with weapons or things. There was a guy with a knife that leapt up on the stage in Nashville, there was a guy with a metal pipe in Oregon who came at me…I was on the corner of 19th and Broadway and this guy came at me with what looked like a metal compass and he came right at me to stab it in my face and Ron, the security guy, got his hand up in time and it went right through his hand. I was in Fort Lauderdale and a guy gets out of Starbucks, a nicely dressed man…and he takes the lid of his coffee and throws it right at my face. The guy who was with me got his face just quick enough in front of mine, he took the hit and got second degree burns.”
“The worst of these was a guy from Illinois who decided to drive up to northern Michigan where I lived and he built a fertilizer bomb to blow up our house. He was going to plant it underneath the house and blow it up. His AK-47 went off accidentally and a neighbor called the cops and he was arrested. In an apartment they found a diary and he had a list of people he was going to assassinate and I was at the top of his list…At that point people who live with you say they don’t want to be the collateral damage of what is obviously going to happen to me. Life starts to suck in a huge way. I made two very good friends with Ben and Jerry.”
Moore doesn’t want Donald Trump’s show to end any time soon.
“I think Trump is a great performance artist. I hope his show doesn’t end very soon. I’m enjoying it…He did point out he went against the war in the first year and broke with the Republicans and Bush. He criticized Bush. He wants to tax the hedge fund guys. That’s not an endorsement, but there’s something going on that he’s tapping into with a lot of people. Look, history is full of examples of crazy demigods being able to manipulate the frustrations of the middle class. He’s doing well and unless he implodes in some way it’s very possible he’ll be the Republican nominee. But because this next election will be decided by women, people of color, women, women, people of color and young people — look, there isn’t anything more uncool to an 18-year-old than Donald Trump. He’s already lost the general election, so it might be best if they nominate him cause it will be entertaining for the rest of us.
Moore remains optimistic about American’s future.
“I have been writing about private prisons, women not being equal parts of the power structure and others for a very long time. I should be much more pessimistic and cynical than I am. Nothing has changed, and yet to me everything has changed. After the 2004 election when all those states made it part of their constitution that if you love somebody of the same gender you couldn’t marry them, that was just 10-11 years ago. Now, it’s gone. Just like that it happened — obviously it was a long struggle. But things change all the time.”
“If I told you in 2006 that our fellow Americans would elect, two years from now, a black man with the middle name of Hussein, that would’ve just been ‘crazy Mike’ again out on some limb. We do incredible things. This amazing thing about us as a country is we, in spite of ourselves, we really pull off some wonderful things, and I have a lot of optimism that once the American public — I realize the American public is kept ignorant to a large degree for various reasons — but eventually when people learn the truth they will do the right thing. Ignorance can be corrected.”