In a Democracy Now! special broadcast, we spend the hour with one of the most famous independent filmmakers in the world: Michael Moore. For the past twenty years, Michael has been one of the most politically active, provocative and successful documentary filmmakers in the business. His films include Roger & me; Fahrenheit 9/11; Bowling for Columbine, for which he won the Academy Award; and his latest, Capitalism: A Love Story.[includes rush transcript]
AMY GOODMAN: Today, in this Democracy Now! special, we spend the hour with one of the most famous independent filmmakers in the world: Michael Moore. For the past twenty years, Michael has been one of the most politically active, provocative and successful documentary filmmakers in the business. His films include Roger & Me; Bowling for Columbine, for which he won the Academy Award; Fahrenheit 9/11; Sicko; and his latest, Capitalism: A Love Story.
Michael Moore recently joined us in our Democracy Now! studios in New York for an event celebrating the launch of the greenest internet-TV-radio studios in the country. Juan Gonzalez and I interviewed him before a rapt audience of hundreds. I began by asking Michael Moore why he first became a filmmaker.
MICHAEL MOORE: I had a newspaper in Flint, Michigan called the Flint Voice, and so it was a, you know, underground, alternative newspaper that I edited and put out for about ten years. And we were always going up against General Motors and the powers that be in town and not getting very far.
And so, there was a magazine out in San Francisco that had been subscribing to my paper and asked me if I would come out and be the editor of this magazine. And so I thought that sounded like a cool idea, to do what I was doing in Flint and do it on a national scale, so I took the job. And right away there were — obviously there were problems with the owner of the magazine and me that we didn’t see eye to eye on a number of things. I wanted the magazine to try and reach more of a working-class audience, and they were more concerned, I think, about reaching more of a, you know, college-educated, liberal group of people, and — which are good people. But so, I was fired on Labor Day, about four months into it, and so I was out of work.
And I had given up everything in Flint. I had sold my paper and the house and everything. And it was — I don’t know if you’ve ever been unemployed, but it’s not pleasant, and you don’t know what’s going to happen next. Of course, I just had a high school education, so I really — I wasn’t qualified to do anything or whatever. So I went back to Michigan and just to visit friends and family. And while I was there, there was a news bulletin that came on TV saying that Roger Smith was announcing that he was going to lay off another 30,000 people at GM, 10,000 of which would be at Flint. And Flint had already lost about 20,000 jobs at that point. Now, this is 1986. So I just thought, you know, I should just make a movie about this.
And I didn’t know anything about making a movie, and I hadn’t gone to film school or whatever. But the year before, these people had come to Flint to make a movie about the Klan and the Nazis that were kind of preying upon the unemployed at that time in Michigan, and they asked me if I would help them. And so, I said, “Sure,” because, you know, they knew of my paper. And I kind of thought it was kind of cool, you know, how they did this, and I was watching how they did it. And one of them had made a film called The Atomic Cafe, a documentary back in the '80s. Remember that? It was very funny, you know, a cool documentary. And then the second person, Anne Bohlen, had made a film that I think won the Oscar. It was called With Babies and Banners. It was about the women's involvement in the Flint sit-down strike of 1936 and '37. And a third person was Jim Ridgeway, who was a great columnist of the Village Voice.
And so, a year later, I got the idea of making this movie, and I called up Kevin, who had made The Atomic Cafe, Kevin Rafferty, and asked him if he would come to Flint and teach me how to make a movie. And he said, “Yeah, I'll come there for a week,” and brought his camera and some film and showed me how to operate the camera and the sound machine and everything. And we shot about sixty rolls of film. We began on the fiftieth anniversary of the sit-down strike on February 11th in 1987.
And I don’t know if anybody’s heard this story before, but a couple years later, we were in Washington, DC. By this time, I knew you. We had gone over to Israel and the West Bank and Gaza and had rubber bullets shot at us and —-
AMY GOODMAN: Learned how to deal with tear gas, the lemon the kids gave us.
MICHAEL MOORE: And tear gas, yeah.
AMY GOODMAN: Onions.
MICHAEL MOORE: Yeah, it was -— man, that was quite a trip. We should talk about that sometime, because it was such an eye-opener for me. And I’ll never forget the absolute devastating poverty that we witnessed in Gaza, especially that — even though I had traveled other places around the world, I had never seen anything like that. But that’s for another show.
Anyway, so I’m in Washington, DC. We’re editing Roger & Me, and it’s January 20th of 1989. George the First was being inaugurated. And I said to the editors, “Why don’t we go over and watch — I had never seen an inauguration.” So we walked over there on the Mall, and they had these big TV screens. And up on the podium behind George Bush was Kevin, Kevin Rafferty, who had — like, was my teacher, taught me how to make this film and everything. And I’m thinking, oh, he must be making a movie, or I wonder how — how did he get access up there? It was just so weird, you know? He was like three rows behind Bush.
And so, a couple days later, I called him up, and I said, “I could have sworn I saw you sitting up there behind the President.” And he said, “Yeah, that was me.” And I said, “Well, were you making a movie, or did you just get special tickets, or — or what?” He said, “No. The President’s my uncle.” He had never told me. His mother and Barbara Bush were sisters. And it was just — it was like — it was so shocking to hear this. And I was like — and then, when the movie came out, Bush, elder Bush, wanted to have a screening at Camp David for the extended family, because it was cousin Kevin’s camera work in the movie. And so, there was this screening there. And I wasn’t allowed into the screening, but I asked him later what it was like. And he said, “Well, it was kind of quiet in there, except there was — one of my cousins, he was laughing a lot, but I don’t think it was because of the movie.” Another George. It was the first time I heard that name. So, anyways, that’s why I’ve never really wanted to say a bad word about the Bush family, because if it weren’t for them, I wouldn’t be a filmmaker. So I have an enormous amount of gratitude. So that’s how I got my start.
JUAN GONZALEZ: Michael, I’d like to get back to that newspaper. You said it was called the Flint Voice?
MICHAEL MOORE: Yeah, the Flint Voice
JUAN GONZALEZ: What made you decide to start a newspaper? And what was it —- I mean, was this a weekly? Did you have any staff? Or -—
MICHAEL MOORE: Well, I started my first newspaper in fourth grade. And the nuns shut it down after a few issues. And so, I restarted it in sixth grade, and they shut it down then. And I restarted it in eighth grade, and then the priest, the bishop, they all got involved in it, to try and stop me from putting this little newspaper out. So —-
JUAN GONZALEZ: Why were they -— why did they want to shut it down?
MICHAEL MOORE: Well, because I was writing about things that we weren’t supposed to be discussing, especially in the Catholic Church. So, I think I referred to it as a woman-hating institution. So, well, it just seemed odd to me as a child that, you know — I mean, I grew up in a family — I mean, I’ve always — in every machination of a family I’ve been a part of, I’ve been the minority as the male. I mean, I had a mother and two sisters, no brother, so my dad and I were, you know, doing the dishes. And then, you know, I have a wife and a daughter. So I was — just as a child, I just didn’t — my mom was really good about stuff like this, about the gender stuff and how my sisters were treated and what was expected of them and me and all of that. So I got really lucky on that end. And these were just working-class people in Flint. My dad worked on the assembly line building spark plugs for GM cars.
So, by the time I was, I guess, nineteen years old, I decided to try and do a newspaper for real, and figured out how to do it and tried to raise some ad money and all that. I didn’t get very far. And I heard this guy was going to play a concert over in Grand Rapids, Michigan. His name was Harry Chapin. And I knew he did a lot of benefits, and I thought, well, maybe I could just show him this newspaper and what we’re doing. And so I drove over to Grand Rapids. I snuck backstage. I’m about to open his dressing room door. Patti, this is like —- I’m like the stalker that’s backstage. Anyways, the security guy grabs me by the shoulder and like, “Where do you think you’re going?” “I was just going in there to see Mr. Chapin. You know, we’re going to talk about”—- “No, you’re not! Errrrrr!” You know, he starts to like, you know, yank me back.
And Harry opens the door, and he goes, “What’s going on out here?” “Oh, this guy says he’s here to see you.” And he said, “Well, let him come in and see me.” And the guy just had to let go of me, and I went in, and I told him what we were trying to do. I told him what was going on in Flint. It was ignored, being ignored by the rest of the country. Thousands of people were losing their jobs. But nobody was really talking about — you know, other than the steel industry, everything, at least on the surface, seemed to be pretty hunky dory then in the, you know, late '70s. So he came to Flint every year and did a huge benefit concert for us, and it funded the paper for us. And that's how I was able to do that for ten years. And it was great.
And we did a lot of things. And we were raided by the police, because of the story we were doing on the mayor. He sent the police literally to the printing press in Lapeer, Michigan, and went in, walked in with a warrant that they got from a judge, and seized the plates off the printing press as it was printing our paper, and literally took the plates and all the papers that had already been printed. And so, it caused a big ruckus, and it, you know, made the national news and all that. And then some congressman asked me to come and testify about passing a shield law, which was eventually passed. And it was pretty much based on the raid at our paper and this CBS affiliate — I think it was in Boise, Idaho — that also was raided by the police. And it was a law that — a federal law that was passed to prohibit police — they just simply cannot enter a newsroom unless they’re literally chasing a murder suspect that’s just happened to run into the newsroom. So, you know, it was a fairly strong law, and it was good. And so, those are kind of my early experiences with it.
And I tell you, I appreciate the nuns for trying to put the clamp on it, because it really just made me want to do it more. And so, I’m grateful to them. In fact, when I made Sicko, I decided to do the premier of the film at the nuns — the convent house, where they — like, all the nuns I had would be in their eighties and nineties. And so, I went and set up a screen and showed them the film. And, of course, you know, nuns are great, because they know the [bleep] that goes on in the Catholic Church, and they were always more radical and more antiwar and all that, because obviously they were suffering their own oppression being nuns and just taking it out on the rest of us.
JUAN GONZALEZ: You know, when Roger & Me came — '89, it came out, right?
MICHAEL MOORE: Yeah, ’89, right.
JUAN GONZALEZ: Because I remember I was at that time going through Central America and the machilas in northern Mexico, and in Honduras, the big machila center is Puerto Cortés, trying to, like — I hadn't heard about the movie, but I was trying to get my paper to pay more attention to all of these jobs that were fleeing to Central America and to northern Mexico. And I’m in my managing editor’s office one day, trying to convince him that I need to be able to go back down there. And he said, “Have you seen Roger & Me?” I said, “What?” “Yeah, this film. You’ve got to see this film.” And so, it was already being — it immediately had an impact on the commercial media, even though maybe they weren’t paying visibly that much attention to it. But, could you talk about the impact of this deindustrialization that occurred, not just in Flint, but throughout the Midwest, as all these jobs went to Mexico and now, of course, to China and Vietnam and other places?
MICHAEL MOORE: Well, when I had my paper, actually, about six years before you went down there, I went down there, and I snuck into some of these places, because they were starting to move these jobs out of Flint and move them there, and I wanted to see what the conditions were like. And I did some stories about it. And, of course, the PR at the time was that this was going to raise the standard of living of Mexican people, and they would be just like us in twenty years. Well, of course, here we are twenty-plus years later, and the Mexican people still live a pretty tough existence, including those who work in machiladora factories along the border there.
I also — I snuck into this thing in Acapulco there. Reagan’s Department of Commerce was hosting a meeting for US businesses who wanted to move to Mexico, to help them make that move. And so, they were being wined and dined in Acapulco, and I sort of — I made up an identity for myself and cut my hair and tried to look as, you know, business-like as possible. And I got into it. And so, I spent the weekend there, going to these, you know, sort of semi-private meetings about how to rig the whole thing to — so I could move my — what I said was my auto parts business from Saginaw, Michigan to Mexico. And I was nervous the whole time, though, because I thought, you know, if they find this out, I’m just going to have the living crap beat out of me. But they didn’t. And so, but this was all before Roger & Me.
And I’m sorry I didn’t get to your question, but I — the deindustrialization. Well, you know, it’s — oh, you know, I live in Michigan. I live in Michigan. And, you know, the official unemployment rate is the worst in the country. It hovers somewhere officially between 15 and 20 percent; unofficially it’s much worse than that. Probably in the thirties, high thirties maybe. And there’s a real struggle going on right now with people. And I think it’s kind of dawning on everyone that the rescue party isn’t coming to Michigan. And so, it’s — I don’t know. I don’t think a whole lot anymore about how we got here. I spent so many years of my life thinking about it and writing about it and fighting it. I’m trying to think about what we can do to use what’s left of the threads of our democratic process that we, the people — still says it on that piece of paper — still have. So I’m spending a lot of time in Michigan right now just trying to find ways to help create a different kind of economy, because I think capitalism has been an evil and destructive force for such a long time.
And I decided to make this last film about that, because I just am tired of making movies about this subject, healthcare, this subject, the war, this subject — you know, they’re all spokes from the same greedy friggin’ wheel. And unless we all, all of us — I love what Patti said about — she doesn’t call herself an activist, and neither do I, because I think it’s a redundant term, simply because I’m a citizen in a democracy, so that automatically implies I’m an activist, you’re an activist, you’re all activists. Anybody who decides to reside in the democracy is an activist. If you’re not an activist, if we’re not, then the democracy ceases to exist. So, there is no choice but for all of us to be active.
And while I, as I’ve said to you on your show, recently been severely disappointed in President Obama, I will say that the youth revolution that really ignited his chances of winning — and I think that hasn’t really been spoken of enough — that young people really made that happen. If you remember, in Iowa, a few months before the caucus, he was thirty points behind Hillary. And those kids from around the country all went to Iowa, and they knocked on every door three times. And he won that caucus. And that was extremely impressive and gave me a lot of hope. And when I listen to my daughter, I’m sure when you listen to your kids, all our kids, you know — I mean, the great thing about youth is that sense of hope, because their whole life is still in front of them. The fact that we’re leaving them a world that will be faced with oil riots and other incursions into countries to get that oil and a whole host of other things, I’m bothered by it, because I just — I forgot that I was going to get older, you know, and I turned fifty-six on last Friday. And I’m like, sheez! You know, fifty-six, aw, man! You know, I don’t know if I can pull this off in the next thirty years. At least I was giving myself thirty years, you know, but that’s only because I’ve started eating fruits and vegetables, so…
AMY GOODMAN: Michael Moore. If you’d like a copy of today’s show, you can go to our website at democracynow.org. We’ll have more with the Academy Award-winning filmmaker in a minute. Stay with us.
AMY GOODMAN: We return to our interview with Academy Award-winning filmmaker Michael Moore. Juan Gonzalez and I spoke with him before a live studio audience here in our New York studio.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, Michael, talking about successes and, to say the least, the dent you have made, so here you are, learning how to make a film — OK, it’s from the nephew of President Bush. Roger & Me, which you’re making in your living room. I remember you were gathering your pennies together when you got sick and tired of doing that to go downstairs to the movie theater to see what you maybe should be doing. And then it opens at the New York Film Festival, I remember, right? Lincoln Center.
MICHAEL MOORE: Right, right.
AMY GOODMAN: OK, this is your first movie.
MICHAEL MOORE: Yeah, and I was on unemployment then. I got my Michigan unemployment check, was $99 a week. And you’re right, I mean, we would only take our daughter to the movies at that point, when we had saved enough pop bottles, which is what we call them in Michigan. And Michigan, one of the few enlightened things it did a long time ago was make the return ten cents instead of five cents. So, the roads in Michigan are completely clean of bottles, because for ten cents, you know, you’ll take it back. And so, we would save up enough bottles, and then we’d go to the movies. And I’d work these bingo games and all these other things. But yeah, so all of a sudden, so now we’re here in New York City and the New York Film Festival. And it was — I just couldn’t believe it. I mean, the response there at Lincoln Center was just incredible. The standing ovation lasted for like eight minutes. It set the record. Whatever. I didn’t realized they timed these things. The head of the film festival came up to me afterwards. She goes, “You’re bigger than Kurosawa!”
AMY GOODMAN: That’s because you weren’t eating fruits and vegetables then.
MICHAEL MOORE: I know. I thought she was making a comment on my size. It’s true. No, she says, “No, his standing ovation was only seven minutes; yours was eight.”
AMY GOODMAN: Thank God for your mother! I remember her —-
MICHAEL MOORE: Yeah, for a while.
AMY GOODMAN: She was standing there for that last minute.
MICHAEL MOORE: See, my mom was there, right? Oh, you remember this. Oh, yeah, and she brought my -— my aunt lived on Staten Island. And fortunately, because I had an aunt and a cousin who lived on Staten Island while I was growing up, we drove from Flint to New York City every summer, or every other summer. And it was so great, starting in the early '60s, to be just wandering around New York, this great, great, great, great city, and getting lost and being exposed to all the things you were talking about when you first came from South Jersey.
AMY GOODMAN: So what were one of your favorite moments, whether it was Roger & Me, Canadian Bacon, TV Nation, Awful Truth, Fahrenheit 9/11, Sicko, Capitalism: A Love Story? But some of those moments in these films that are unforgettable, or the TV shows, where you're going after someone, or you’re trying to expose the truth?
MICHAEL MOORE: Well, yeah, on the TV, TV Nation and The Awful Truth, we were just — we had a little reunion of some of us the other night who worked on TV Nation, and we were talking about how so many issues that are still in the news now, that we were doing this back in — you know, fifteen, sixteen, seventeen years ago. There was an episode where I convinced the Michigan Militia to go on a Ferris wheel ride with me. And we just did stuff like that, you know?
JUAN GONZALEZ: Or when you went to try to buy a nuke in Russia.
MICHAEL MOORE: Yeah, when Russia had become Russia, I wanted to go find the missile that had been pointed at Flint all those years and see if I could buy it or, you know, have it pointed at Orange County or something. So —-
AMY GOODMAN: When you were climbing the wall?
MICHAEL MOORE: Yeah, we climbed -— yeah, we climbed over the wall of this Soviet missile base, now a Russian missile base, and they caught up to us. It was kind of sad and pathetic, though, because they didn’t have any parts left for their army tanks and jeeps and stuff, so there were all these soldiers chasing after us on like a 1940s fire truck, and it looked like something out of a Buster Keaton movie. It was just, you know — but yeah, no, they held us for a while. But it was all — I mean, that TV show, those shows were a lot of fun and scary. We were saying how, jeez, we would never do that anymore.
You know, I remember we snuck a pimp, an actual pimp, a guy who was a real pimp in real life, into the Capitol building and went to all the various senators, like walked right into their offices with this pimp who wanted to praise them for whoring themselves out to, you know, Exxon and everything. And we tried to get — jeez, who was I — the senator from Minnesota before —-
AUDIENCE MEMBER: Mondale.
MICHAEL MOORE: —- Dayton. No, no, no. It was a Republican, before Dayton. I can’t remember now. But he had a pair of these high-heel shoes we were trying to get the senator to wear on camera, because he was, like, the best of all of them. And I was just thinking, God, we could never do that now. I mean, we just would be shot if we attempted anything like that. We fooled these congressmen into introducing a bill on the House floor to declare August 16th “TV Nation Day” across the country. And we literally got a whole bunch of cosigners, and they actually spoke on the floor. We got three representatives. And we filmed them taking all these, essentially, bribes from me, gifts, if they would just introduce this into the record. And so, you can get it on the C-SPAN archives now. You can just see these congressmen reading their proclamation for TV Nation Day. But, yeah, so the shows were — they were a lot of fun, and I think they brought — you know, this was all before Jon Stewart and all this stuff where, you know, we did a lot of this, trying to inspire young people to be a little rebellious and not be afraid of power and authority.
AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about your experience winning the Academy Award? Describe what that was like for people. I mean, you are now reaching billions of people, albeit you have how many seconds to make your comment?
MICHAEL MOORE: Forty-five seconds.
AMY GOODMAN: How many?
MICHAEL MOORE: Forty-five.
AMY GOODMAN: So, talk about the moment. And did you think you were going to win?
MICHAEL MOORE: No, no. I was certain that that wouldn’t happen, because if we had won, somehow Price Waterhouse would rig it so that they would never call my name. I mean, it was the fifth day of the Iraq war. Remember, they weren’t going to even have the Oscars. And I was pretty nervous about the whole thing. Actually, I got a call from Tim Robbins, and he said, “Why don’t you come on over for lunch tomorrow at the hotel we’re staying at. We’ll invite some friends. And, you know, we’ll just talk about, you know, if you just want to just have some support and all that.” So I go over there, and I walk in there, and it’s Tim Robbins and Susan Sarandon, Gore Vidal, Eddie Vedder from Pearl Jam, Don Cheadle, George Clooney — I mean, there’s like this whole table. I’m like, “What am I doing here?” And so, they all went around — I just said, “Why don’t you guys — if you were in my shoes, what’s” — and they all went around and gave the Michael Moore speech, as if they had won the Oscar for Bowling for Columbine. And it was some pretty hilarious — I’ll write about it some day. It’s pretty funny.
But anyways, the next day we won, and in the commercial break, just before winning, I’m sitting with the other nominees, and I turned and I said to them, “Eh, listen, if I win, I’m probably — I can’t like thank my hairdresser. You know, I’m going to have to say something, and I’d like to invite you guys, if you want, to come up. Why don’t we all go up as a group in solidarity as nonfiction filmmakers?” And they all said, “OK, great.” They were — and I said, “And if you win, I’m sitting right here, because you don’t want me anywhere near a microphone.”
So, anyways, Diane Lane came out, read the nominees. She opened the envelope. She said my name and Bowling for Columbine.
DIANE LANE: Bowling for Columbine, Michael Moore and Michael Donovan!
MICHAEL MOORE: I’m in this like out-of-body experience, getting up out of my seat. I motion to all them to come on and join me, please. And I’m walking up to the stage, and it was like, you know, the two voices that are in Gollum’s head in Lord of the Rings. You know, I had that — it was like — you know, like one voice was saying, “Oscar! Precious! Precious Oscar! Just thank your agent and the people, the little people who brought you here, and leave the stage!” And the other voice was going, “No, there’s a war on! You have to say something! You have to!” “No, no! Don’t listen to him! Don’t listen! No! Oscar! Precious!” “No, Oscar bad! Bad Oscar! War going on!” And it was like this fight going on in my head for like the thirty seconds it takes to climb the stage. And I’m walking past Martin Scorsese and Meryl Streep. They’re all like, you know, “Go get ’em, Mike!”
And so I get up to the microphone, and I start in what I thought was in a fairly poetic way. I thanked the Canadians who funded the film. They’re so quiet up there, but they’re so subversive. And some of them are probably in this room, you don’t even know it. Anyways, and then I said, “I’ve invited my fellow nominees up here, because we make nonfiction films. We really believe in the power of nonfiction, because we live in fictitious times.”
MICHAEL MOORE: I’ve invited my fellow documentary nominees on the stage with us, and we would like to — they’re here — they’re here in solidarity with me, because we like nonfiction. We like nonfiction, and we live in fictitious times. We live in a time where we have fictitious election results that elects a fictitious president. We live in a time where we have a man sending us to war for fictitious reasons, whether it’s the fictition of duct tape or the fictitious of orange alerts. We are against this war, Mr. Bush. Shame on you, Mr. Bush! Shame on you! And any time you’ve got the Pope and the Dixie Chicks against you, you’re time is up! Thank you very much!
MICHAEL MOORE: It was a friggin’ riot. And the “boos,” and they were like — and it had just gone from this huge standing ovation to now it was just like — just us like — but I’m looking down below and where all the actors and directors — nobody’s booing me amongst the nominees. It’s all coming from the balcony, where the sponsors are sitting and the agents and all the money people, and they were just so angry. And they struck up the band on me, and they’re lowering the microphone. “My forty-five seconds isn’t up!” And I just blurted out to Bush, “Anytime you’ve got the Pope and the Dixie Chicks against you, you’re in trouble.”
And I walked off. I was shaking when I walked off the stage. And I walk off. And actually, when you all win your Oscar, this is the first thing that happens to you. You walk off, and in the wings, the very first people that meet you are two interns who are nicely dressed in evening wear, a girl and a boy. And the girl goes, “Champagne?” And she’s got a little flute of champagne. “Champagne?” And the boy goes, “Breath mint?” I swear to God. Because you’re going backstage to do these interviews now to a press conference. But I got a special — I got a third person that the usual Oscar winner doesn’t get, and it was a stage hand, who came right up in my ear, and he was coming —- I thought he was going to [bleep] knock me out. And he comes right up in my ear, and he goes, “[bleep]!” And so, “Champagne?” “Breath mint?” “[bleep]!” And so, at that point, security comes and, like, you know, takes me away. And -—
AMY GOODMAN: To jail?
MICHAEL MOORE: Huh?
AMY GOODMAN: To jail?
MICHAEL MOORE: No. No, literally to remove me from — because they saw — they were actually setting up backstage because U2 was going to sing a song. And Bono and those guys saw that they were —- these guys were coming at me, and so then they came over, as if to stand, like, “Don’t mess with him, or you’ll have to mess with —” You know, we’re all Irish, so. You have to develop a sense of humor when you’re Irish, or otherwise the darkness sets in.
But, so I got out out of there. And I did not want to go to any of the parties. In fact, I remember we walked into the Governor’s Ball that’s attached to the Oscars, my wife and I. And we had our parents with us, you know. And I felt so bad for them. And people were just giving me the dirtiest looks. I remember Jon Voight and Matthew McConaughey wanting to come at me. I remember walking in, and it’s like people just walked away from me like I was the plague in there. And you have to remember, again, this was the fifth day of the war. And in our memory, we’ve sort of forgotten what that was like. For those of you in your own communities, at work, at school, when you were against the war, especially once it started, you were in a very small minority. I remember Keith Olbermann attacking me on his show. That’s right, since apologized. I remember Al Franken -—
AMY GOODMAN: How were you attacked? Why did he attack you?
MICHAEL MOORE: Huh?
AMY GOODMAN: What did he say?
MICHAEL MOORE: Because he was in favor of the war. I remember Al Franken attacking me, because he was for the war. That’s right. I remember David Remnick, the editor of The New Yorker, writing that editorial in The New Yorker supporting the war. To see the New York Times and The New Yorker help give Bush the cover he needed and lead us to war, they’re actually — it was more of a criminal act than Bush himself, because they enabled it and allowed it to reach a wider, more mainstream audience. So, Bob and Harvey Weinstein, who were the studio that put the film out, they were for the war. My agent, the infamous Ari, was for the war. I mean, I was — I was alone in this and —-
AMY GOODMAN: Wait, you have to explain. Ari who?
MICHAEL MOORE: Ari Emanuel. Oh, yes, that’s right. Ari Emanuel, his brother has a night job at the White House.
AMY GOODMAN: Called Rahm Emanuel.
MICHAEL MOORE: Yes, Rahm Emanuel is his brother. So I’ve -— ah, geez, well, that’s another show. But just to finish the story, so I walk into the Governor’s Ball. Everybody parts away from me, with the exception —-
AMY GOODMAN: Well, why didn’t you take the breath mint? That was the reason.
MICHAEL MOORE: I think that was it. I think -— you should do more comedy!
And Sherry Lansing, who ran Paramount at the time, one of the first and few women to run a studio in Hollywood, and her husband is William Friedkin, the director who made The Exorcist, and they saw that, and us just standing there. And she came out of the crowd and walked into this big middle zone where nobody would get near me. And in front of everybody, as everybody was just giving me the stink eye, came right up and put a big kiss on my cheek. And it was — I’ll never forget that, because — and I’ve told her since. I said, “That was really kind of a brave thing to do.” And she says, “I’m just tired of dealing with all of these [bleep] in this town. So, you know, you did the right thing.”
And I apologized to Diane Lane, because she had to stand there during the whole booing. You know, “I had to put you through this.” And she said, “Are you kidding? I’m going to remember this for the rest of my life. You let me be part of this historical moment.”
AMY GOODMAN: Michael Moore. If you’d like a copy of today’s show, you can go to our website at democracynow.org. We’ll have more with the Academy Award-winning filmmaker in a minute. Stay with us.
AMY GOODMAN: We return now to our interview with Academy Award-winning filmmaker Michael Moore. He talked about the night in March of 2003 when he won the Oscar for his film Bowling for Columbine. It was just a few days after the launch of the invasion of Iraq, and he publicly criticized President Bush and the war as he accepted the award. Michael Moore talked about the backlash against him.
MICHAEL MOORE: I went back to the hotel room that night, made the mistake of — my wife went to bed, and I stayed up with the remote control. In LA, after the Oscars, it’s only 9:00 in the evening, so every local channel has a, like, post-Super Bowl show. And every local — I just went around. “Well, that’s the end of Michael Moore.” “Why would he do that?” “Well, that’s the end of his career.” “No one’s going to give him a job here.” I mean, every channel was saying that. And I watched that literally for an hour. And by the time I went to bed, I believed it. I believed that was it, I’m toast.
We got back to Michigan. Our house was vandalized, horse manure spread everywhere, signs on the trees telling us to move to Havana, and everything else, which, when you live in Michigan in the winter, that actually doesn’t sound so bad.
And then life got — you know, I decided to say just to hell with it, and I, fifteen months later — in those fifteen months, I made Fahrenheit 9/11. And it was made during this time of constant death threats, constantly being attacked physically — and I’ve told you some of this before. I don’t really like to talk about it publicly, because I don’t want to encourage, you know, nuts to — but eventually, they had to put — I had a total of — it got up to nine bodyguards on me, three per shift, twenty-four hours a day, living with us.
You know, I mean, there was the guy in Nashville that came, jumped up on the stage with a knife. There was a guy in Portland that had a metal pipe coming at me. There was the guy in Fort Lauderdale who was just walking out of Starbucks and saw me on the sidewalk and became livid and took the lid off his hot, scalding coffee and threw it in my face. The bodyguard was so — I mean, he was so fast, he put his face in front of mine to catch it and got second-degree — we had to take him to the hospital, but not before he took the guy down on the sidewalk and handcuffed him. And then, there was the guy who was going to blow up our house. And he was making his practice bombs in Illinois, and one night one went off accidentally. He wasn’t hurt. The neighbors heard it. They called the cops, and they came there, and they saw all the materials and the list of people whose homes he was going to blow up. And it was Janet Reno, Rosie O’Donnell, Hillary and me. And how I made it on the lesbian list, I don’t know, but I — But Girlfriends Magazine, the following year, named me “Man of the Year,” so — that’s the lesbian magazine. So, no, all I can — I try to laugh about it, because — anyways, he was convicted and went to the federal penitentiary.
And as I’ve said to you privately, I’ve wondered at times if I had it all to do over again, whether I actually would, because I don’t know if it’s been worth it, personally. I don’t think it’s been good for my health. I don’t think it’s been fair to my family to have to live in fear, to my eighty-nine-year-old father, who lives alone, who has to live with that fear, and all the security apparatus that has to be put in place to protect them. And the honest answer — I’d like to give you the brave answer, but the honest answer is I’m not so sure I would do it again, having gone through what I went through at that time. And I say that only because I’m human, and I’m every bit as frightened of not being able to finish my life as any of you would be.
But somehow I pushed through it. I have some very good friends and a wonderful family, and so many — you know, all of you and the people that keep going to my movies and send me lots of words of encouragement, and all my Twitter followers. So, I’m grateful for that, and I persevere and keep going. And I don’t know what I’m going to do next, because I’m not doing anything right now. But I’d like as many people as possible to see this last movie, and it’s because I think it says everything I want to say about how we’ve structured our society when it comes to how we treat each other.
JUAN GONZALEZ: You were saying earlier that you’re trying to look more now toward what can be done to change the situation that we’re in. And obviously, the Obama administration was welcomed by the people, but has disappointed in many ways. What do you think that people who are still concerned about what that movement stood for at the beginning, those who were supporting him and those who saw a hope for real change, what needs to be done now?
MICHAEL MOORE: Well, the cynical answer that the Democrats, the Democratic Party and Obama would give you is that they know we have nowhere else to go, and so therefore they don’t have to listen to us, and they can play it in the center, or even to the right, and where are we going to go?
AUDIENCE MEMBER: Green Party.
MICHAEL MOORE: Yeah, you know, Patti [Smith] and I, you know, were very vocal and worked for Ralph [Nader] back in 2000. You know, the way our system is rigged, it’s not like other democracies where you have four, five, six political parties. You know, you watch the Canadian elections. All five political parties are at the debates. They all get an equal amount of air time. You know, it’s a fairer system. Britain’s going through it right now, and their election season will last four weeks. So, it’s rigged against a third party.
So, either that has to change, or — I guess what I’ve tried to encourage people to do locally, and essentially we did it in Michigan — we moved up into northern Michigan to basically just, you know, be away from everything. And it’s in the woods, and it’s a county that always votes for Republicans. And there were four dues-paying members of the Democratic Party there in this county when we moved there. And so, we decided, “Why don’t we just take over? Let’s just get eight of our friends to come, and we’ll be the majority, and we’ll just take it over.” That’s a lot easier than starting something new. You know, they’ve already got stationary printed, and they’ve got a logo picked out. And you know how many fights can happen over the logo.
So today there’s 350 dues-paying members of the Democratic Party in our county. And when Bart Stupak, who’s our congressman, was going to derail the healthcare, the “healthcare” — sorry, if you’re listening on radio, those were the air quotes I was giving it. When he was going to derail that because of his own personal religious views, we got active very quickly and put an enormous amount of pressure on him, and one of our own announced her candidacy to run against him in the primary and totally turned his life upside-down. He was forced to vote the right way. And I saw that happen, that citizen power on a local level, with the work we had done just in four years of building the local Democratic Party into essentially a very progressive-left political organization that uses the free ballot space called the “Democratic Party” on the ballot. And I’ve encouraged this around the country, and I’ve heard of other people doing similar things. And we go to the state convention, and we just — you know, we cause a ruckus whenever we can with the other Democrats that really should be calling themselves Republicans.
AMY GOODMAN: As we wrap up, Michael, the war — the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. What is your solution that you think should happen now?
MICHAEL MOORE: Well, it was — I think it was — was it last week or a couple weeks ago? We just — the Afghanistan war surpassed Vietnam as our longest war. I think we should start referring to it as what it is: it’s Obama’s war. Just as Johnson’s war became Nixon’s war, this is his war. I don’t know why he’d want a war. This is a completely unwinnable — I don’t even want to use that word, because what are we trying to win? I mean, it’s so absolutely crazy.
And I’ve seen a couple documentaries. We saw one there when we were at Sundance, and I just saw one here at Tribeca, that just show the absolute futility and stupidity of this war, and the third war that’s going on, really, in Pakistan.
So, if I had President Obama’s ear, I would say to him, “I would like you to stop this now. It’s not your war. You are absolutely right to figure out what needs to be done law enforcement-wise to bring anyone to justice who participated in the mass murder of 3,000 people. But that was a crime. That wasn’t an act of war from another nation.” And it got built into that, blown into that, on purpose, by people who knew what they were doing, in order to instill fear into the country so they could get whatever the hell they wanted. And it worked. For a while, at least. And for a long while, sadly.
And he should end it. He should bring the troops home now. He should bring all the troops home from Iraq. He’s going to tell you that they’re all home at the end of the summer, but there’s probably going to be 50,000 still there. This is not — this is not our business. We had no right going there. It was an immoral act. And it — you know, who do we — I just wonder sometimes, who do we think we are as Americans, that we’re not going to have to answer for this someday? You know, whether we answer for it here or there, or if you’re a religious person and you think there’s a life after this, you know, what do you think is going to happen up at the Pearly Gates when they check your citizenship and go, “Oh, you were an American? Ha, well, here’s your list of crimes”?
“Oh, yeah. No, I was against the war! I was against the war!”
“Did you pay your taxes?”
“Well, yeah, you got to pay your taxes.”
“Well, then you helped fund this, didn’t you?”
“OK, well, you know, turn around. You’re not coming in the Gates.”
I just — I think that there’s so much good that we could do. You know, if you travel the world, you know that people like us as people, as individuals. There’s something charming about our naïveté and our, you know, right? I mean, you know, “Hey! Hey! How ya doin’! Hey, yeah! I’m from Detroit! Yeah!” They could spot us coming. But I think we’re capable of a lot of good. And when you have a billion people on this planet that tonight cannot drink a cup of clean water, two billion who don’t have clean sanitation, what if we used our money to do that? I read this crazy statistic — and I have not fact-checked this, I’ll just throw this out there — but it was something like, for $15 billion or something like that, we could dig so many — x number of wells in the third world that would greatly reduce that number of how many people don’t have clean water. And I’m thinking, $15 billion is what we’ve been spending almost most every month on Iraq and Afghanistan. So, one month of the killing machine could give clean water to virtually all the people that don’t have it? Wouldn’t you rather be known as, you know, a citizen of a country that a child 10,000 miles away, while growing up, drinking clean water, saw that plaque on that well that said, “Brought to you from your friends in the United States of America”? That’s how I’d like to be known.
AMY GOODMAN: Academy Award-winning filmmaker Michael Moore.