For nearly twenty years now, Michael Moore has used filmmaking as a means to directly tackle hot button issues and notable figures. Before that, he spent years working as a journalist and at a younger age even wrote a couple of plays. In "Fahrenheit 9/11," and at subsequent political rallies leading up to the 2004 U.S. presidential election, Michael Moore attempted to influence the outcome, while a few years earlier with "Bowling for Columbine," he sought to address gun violence in America by taking on the NRA. With his new film "Sicko," which the director discussed at a Toronto International Film Festival Maverick session on Friday night, he seems to be setting his sights on the hearts and minds of the American people. "I think you can judge a society by how they treat the least among them," explained Moore in an on-stage conversation with director Larry Charles that included clips from the new film, despite some initial tech problems. Looking ahead, the director also revealed that his new non-fiction film may very well be one of his last. "I have two or three more docs in my head and that's it," Moore told Charles, "Then I will go back to scripts I have written."
The distinction, however, between documentary and narrative becomes blurry when considering Moore's work. The popularity of Moore's carefully scripted style arguably revolutionized the modern non-fiction filmmaking movement. And when pressed, he shies away from using the 'D' word to describe his films. "I didn't like documentaries," Moore explained Friday, comparing them to medicine. As for his own features, from "Roger & Me" (1989) and "The Big One" (1997), to "Bowling for Columbine" (1994) and "Fahrenheit 9/11" (2002), Moore reiterated, "I don't call 'em documentaries, to me they are movies."
Even while he prepares "Sicko" for June 2007 release, Moore has created "The Great 2004 Slacker Uprising," a new movie made with footage surrounding the 2004 U.S. presidential election. While already working on "Sicko," which will be released by The Weinstein Company, Moore went to Bob and Harvey Weinstein with the idea for this post-election movie. It will be released on DVD in late '07, after "Sicko" but before the 2008 U.S. presidential election. In its opening moments, "The Great 2004 Slacker Uprising" is described on screen as the story of "one filmmaker's attempt to turn things around," but festival technical problems marred Moore's attempts to show segments from the film, ultimately forcing him to cancel the clips.
"This is painful," Moore said, after a second clip was scrapped due to persistent sound problems. While praising the festival as one of the best in the world, Moore was clearly frustrated with the situation, as he and Charles had taken the stage late Friday night in Toronto when a projector problem forced the cancellation of Charles' "Borat". Festival insiders indicated that Moore had planned to screen up to 30 minutes from "Slacker Uprising" on Friday night, but once tech issues were finally resolved, it was too late to re-visit the clips as Moore and Charles had to make way for the rescheduled "Borat" screening that was on tap.
Festival tech issues were resolved in time to show three segments from Moore's "Sicko," which is either anticipated or dreaded, depending on your political views. The new movie about the U.S. health care system will no doubt stir an even greater debate about the issue. Two month's into editing this new movie, Moore admitted that he made the rare exception of showing something as a work-in-progress out of loyalty to the festival, where he first screened "Roger and Me." Normally, he explained, he avoids talking about or showing a new film until it is completed. "I have to [keep it secret]," Moore quipped, "Because I am up to no good." And acknowledging any anonymous pharmaceutical industry reps who might be in the audience, Moore explained that when no insurance company would back him in the making of the film, he thought the movie might be doomed. "How did you get around that," Larry Charles asked Moore. "I don't want to say," Moore responded, "'cause they're here..." The filmmaker also noted that disgruntled employees at those companies had tipped him off to internal attempts to deal with him if he were to show up at their door. One letter even encouraged employees to stir a discussion about Detroit sports teams and engage him in a discussion about his weight loss.
The visibly slimmer Michael Moore said Friday that he had already lost some 60 lbs. by changing his eating habits and walking a few miles each day. Explaining that he still has another 60 lbs. to go, he asked rhetorically, "How the hell can you make a film about health care when you aren't taking care of your health?" As for the film itself, clips depicted life-threatening encounters with the U.S. health care system: from a woman whose emergency ambulance ride to the hospital wasn't pre-approved by her provider to an older Canadian couple who buy health insurance even for their short days trips to America, and another Canadian man living in America who had to return to Canada to have a tendon repaired for free, rather than pay $24,000 for the procedure in the U.S.
But to those aforementioned anonymous health care industry reps in the audience, Moore cautioned that his film, "Will not be necessarily what you think its going to be." In one example, the director compared the no holds barred tactics of American football with the seemingly more fair regulations that guide international soccer, as a way of apparently explaining that his movie will consider the deeper reasons for America undervaluing health care.
"Why is it that the rest of the world is wired the way they are wired," asked Moore, on stage Friday night. "We are filled with anger and revenge and are beating up on those who have it the worst," he continued, "That won't change until we change who we are." [Eugene Hernandez]
Loach's Irish Story Strikes a Chord Amidst Current Events
A new film about occupation and espionage in 1920s Ireland clearly resonates with current events today, as some audience members commented after watching Ken Loach's Cannes Palme d'Or winner "The Wind that Shakes the Barley." The film's star, acclaimed Iraish actor Cillian Murphy, in a conversation with indieWIRE Friday, carefully concurred with such sentiments. "I think it's very clear that history repeats itself," he explained, "The film is highly political and if people draw a parallel with this film and (what's happening now) then they're welcome to do that." Continuing, Murphy added, "But what Ken does so wonderfully in his films is that while they're engaging on a political level, he also makes films well on a human level, so you engage in the story and find something in common - [as] with the two brothers in ['The Wind that Shakes the Barley.']"
"The Wind That Shakes the Barley" was among the early press and industry screenings that drew a large crowd of Toronto fest-goers. Starring Murphy, the film returns to the political/historical - themes frequently visited by Loach in such films as "Land and Freedom," which tackled the Spanish Civil War. In his latest, Loach delves into the Irish uprising against the British following World War I. Emboldened Irish Republicans fought the infamous Black and Tans and demobilized British forces who recently returned from what was then known as The Great War, to suppress the insurgents.
Cillian Murphy and Padraic Delaney play brothers, committed to the Republican movement, who join the rebellion. The two, however, fall on either side of a divide after a tentative peace brokered with the Brits creates a semi-autonomous Irish Free State in the south of the island, with one brother joining the new emerging establishment and the other refusing to relent and continuing with attacks.
"It was a time in Irish history that hasn't been dealt with cinematically," Murphy told indieWIRE Friday at the Intercontinental Hotel in Toronto. "I read more (about the history of the period) and found it much more complex then I had learned." The chance to portray the title character, Damien, appealed to Murphy as well as the opportunity to collaborate with the filmmaker. He added emphatically, "To work with Ken Loach was the first attraction." [Brian Brooks]