There isn’t much middle ground on Michael Moore; his bromide-laden documentaries have earned him both an enthusiastic following from many on the left and unvarnished vitriol from much of the right. But as divisive as Moore’s films can be, they’ve also been remarkable successful with audiences and critics.
"Fahrenheit 9/11" is the highest-grossing doc of all time, and "Bowling for Columbine" won Moore an Oscar for best documentary. With "Sicko" (which opened Friday in New York, and made a remarkable $70,000 on one screen), Moore turns his sights on the American health care system; specifically, he posits that universal health care in Canada, France, and the U.K. offers both a greater level of service, general satisfaction, and fewer serious, potentially grievous problems than does America’s privatized model.
"Sicko" generated its share of controversy because of its last segment, during which Moore took a group of afflicted 9/11 workers to Cuba for health care; some have accused Moore of whitewashing Fidel Castro‘s human rights violations, and the U.S. Treasury department has investigated the trip to determine if it violated the U.S. embargo with Cuba. But Moore defended his stop in Havana, saying the U.S. should be doing more to help the ailing, especially those it considers its heroes.
Moore spoke with journalists at a press conference at the Cannes Film Festival shortly after the film’s premiere; he discussed balancing facts with entertainment and reforming the American system — and Americans’ thinking when it comes to universal health care.
Q: You oversimplify some things, sometimes for entertainment purposes. That does make you open to more mainstream critics who see you as telling incomplete truths. You know that will happen so why do you choose to make your films this way?
Michael Moore: I’m making a movie. I have a 90 to 120 minute time-frame. What you call oversimplification I call a rocking good way to tell a story that leaves no one bored and wanting more at the end of the movie. That’s my goal
Q: Do you have any immediate and realistic solutions for the United States problems that could be implemented immediately?
Moore: One thing we really need to do is get the money out of politics and reform so that these pharmaceutical companies and health insurance companies can’t buy our congress. If we took the money out we’d have a better chance of getting the bills passed and begin a pre-universal, not-for-profit healthcare. I have a list of sites on my web site. I have a list of organizations I encourage people to hook up with and bills for congress. I hope people will become active participants and do something about this. Sometimes I feel I’m in a position and I should try to initiate some engagement. I don’t really think that’s my role to do that and something gets lost in this whole discussion about the film and the festival. I’m a filmmaker and I seldom get to talk about being a filmmaker, making films or what I think about films. Instead I’m asked political questions and I’m only equipped to answer the questions so far. I try to put into my films some thing I feel but I wasn’t kidding when I said I wasn’t writing a book. I’m very careful about the facts in my film — I’m careful they’re accurate and correct. If I say, "There’s nearly 50 million people without health care," that’s a fact. You have to trust that’s a fact. But if I say, "I think part of health insurance should be eliminated," that’s a conclusion I’ve reached through the facts I’ve found. If I said things that were wrong, trust me, people could come at me from all direction but they don’t because things I state as truth are true and things I state as opinions are mine. So the only way these critics can come at me is for the opinions I express or by confusing the opinions for facts.