** 'Bowling For Columbine' a highly interesting movie. I recommend everyone to watch it. And hey .. my stand still doesn't change, I STILL think tv is EVIL and makruh tahrimi (as the hanafi's put it). You could still d/load the movie from the internet btw. :) Owh .. and you need to watch the movie first I guess before you could (really understand and) read the article below.
US comedian and documentary-maker Michael Moore explains his thinking on gun control, American foreign policy, and making movies to eat popcorn to.
Monday November 11, 2002
Andrew Collins: Thanks for coming, and if you haven't seen Bowling For Columbine, I'm sure you know already, it's Michael's look at American gun laws, and from there, he expands it into a film about America's foreign policy and race. It's been wrongly described as a scattershot or scattergun approach by journalists too keen to use a gun metaphor in their review. If you've seen it, you'll know it isn't. I think it's more like a sniper who picks his target and hits the target.
Michael, yesterday when I saw the film in the West End, you got a standing ovation. Now, have you been getting a lot of standing ovations for this film?
Michael Moore: Ah, yeah. The first time we screened it at the Cannes film festival in May, the standing ovation went for close to 15 minutes. It was absolutely embarrassing. And what do you do during that time? I'm trying to cut it off after two minutes and the festival director came over and whispered in my ear, "You are to stand there and take it." So I just stood there and the response in the United States and Canada has been equally enthusiastic. I've shown my stuff here before but I've never had a standing ovation for my work - I just assumed that people didn't do that. I just figured something was wrong with the audience last night - or they were just Americans and Canadians.
AC: I think it's possible that they were clapping you and standing for you, and maybe clapping for what the film says. I think at this time, there's a feeling generally that America is bad over here. Everybody feels, outside of America, that America is running the world. And people kind of feel heartened that you exist and to have you here. Do you feel as separate from other Americans as we would imagine or are there loads of people out there like you?
MM: I think I'm in the majority of Americans. I believe that I am in the mainstream of middle America. This may come as a surprise to many people here but the majority of people did not vote for George Bush - he lost the election; he got the fewest number of votes. In the last year, just with my book that's been out in the United States, at a time when you've been told that we're all lining up behind Bush, united we stand and all this other crap since September 11, the largest selling non-fiction book since September 11 last year has been something called Stupid White Men starring George W Bush. So I think that this - the book, the film - has resonated with millions of people who otherwise don't have a voice, and don't own media and so you don't see them. You're not supposed to see me, I mean someone like me is not supposed to be on television or making films or writing books. So it's just an odd accident that I escaped and somehow I flew in under the radar and came up on the other side. My work is visible but I believe that...
We just finished this book tour: 47 cities across the country and an average of 2,000-3,000 people a night showed up. Not in college towns but in Tampa, Florida; Olympia, Washington; Portland, Oregon - they had to shut down an interstate freeway; they had to turn away about 5,000 people who couldn't get in to the 5,000-seat auditorium. This is not covered in the news though. I never once saw a television network at any of these 47 cities and so I knew that word wasn't getting out to all these people. So you go to all these places and everybody feels alone, thinking that they're the only ones who feel this way. I think probably sitting here you think the whole country's gone mad at this point and we're a menace to the rest of the world. And the second part of that is correct. But that's honestly how I see myself. You know, this morning I got a phone call - they called from the United States to tell me that they'd had another record breaking weekend with the film: 200 cities across the country, a documentary has never done business like this. They can't understand it: they tried to get me to change the title... who's going to see something called Bowling For Columbine? Then, when they find out what it's about: guns, school shootings or whatever, they won't go to it. Then, they hear from France that it's a movie to hate America by, then they really won't go and see it. And it turns out that all the predictions were wrong. And I knew that they'd be wrong because I feel like I have a sense of where people are in the country.
AC: Word of mouth is your best weapon, isn't it, because when the book came out, you weren't seen on a whole lot of TV shows to promote it, were you?
MM: No, I was not allowed on any network television shows in America. Over 90% of the newspapers did not review my book. The New York Times still has not reviewed the book.
AC: Wasn't it on their bestseller list?
MM: For 34 weeks... And at No 1 for a number of those weeks. But they act as if it doesn't exist. And that's the liberal paper. The publisher tried to kill the book after they printed it, on September 10, 2001. And so on September 12, they called me and said, "We can't put the book out, you'll have to change the title and you'll have to rewrite 50% of the book and tone down your dissent and you can't say these things about George W Bush." A whole list of what I had to change. "Oh, and you have to give us $100,000 to reprint the 50,000 copies that we've already printed, if you want the book to come out." I didn't change a word, didn't give them any money and word leaked out that they were banning the book and it caused an uproar and they were forced to release the book and it went to No 1 in about three days. Still, the total advertising budget for the book to date is zero dollars. But this doesn't matter. I don't like to sit around whining about the corporate media, how they control everything, own everything. We already know that. You have to trust that the people don't like what's going on and know they're being lied to. They saw their own White House ripped off from them in a shocking fashion. Some became paralysed by it and have done nothing about it; others are figuring out how to get it back, and I know that this is the time in which I live, and so I'm not surprised by any of it.
AC: So you are the people's film-maker... in the absence of anyone else doing it. I see you're uncomfortable with the term...
MM: Yeah, because I just set out to make a movie that I'd like to go see on a Friday night. When I make a film, I'm not doing it purely for political reasons. If I just wanted to do that, I'd run for office. I love to go see a good movie... try to remember when was the last great film that you saw and when you left the theatre it was like a religious experience; you have tears in your eyes because this art form was honoured by what you just saw on the screen. And it's so rare these days. It's been that way for the last decade or so and so I think as a film-maker, my first contribution would just be to make a good movie that people would love to go see and leave the theatre charged, with that sense of excitement that we've all had. And you want that, every time you go and you so rarely get it. And I just think I can't wait around for other people to give it to me; I'm going to give it to myself and so I'm going to make a movie that I would like to go see. And I trust that a few million others will want to see it too. And the great thing about living in such a large country with 280 million people is that I can literally have 260 million people completely hate what I do, or not get it, or not go; but if 20 million people go and see this movie, the box office would be larger than Jaws. So I'm not trying to appeal to a broad audience because then you'd be trying to water it down and pulling your punches because you've got to please everybody. You just have to please yourself and trust that there's other people like you, that feel that way. So, "people's film-maker", I don't know. I don't really want to represent anybody apart from myself when it comes to the actual film-making process.
AC: There's a lot of emotion in this film. I can't remember the last time that I saw a film where I've laughed out loud and felt almost physically sick, in the same movie.
MM: It's still emotional for me to watch. We were watching it last night - me with my wife and our friend Tom - and we were sitting there in tears; and we've watched it a hundred times. That part in Flint where the six-year-old shoots the six-year-old, I still can't get through that part of the film without tears coming to my eyes. And it's a very difficult trick to try and pull off - asking people to laugh and feel a sense of tragedy and sadness within the same film. I wondered if I could get away with both here and not lose people either way; ie not trivialise the tragedy with the humour but also not have the people leave the theatre in despair. And realising that humour is the most powerful way to make a political statement and say the things that you want to say. And it's not used enough, at least not in the US.
AC: Obviously, some of the laughter is not just at a joke; it's at the tragic ridiculousness of the situation.
MM: Right, it's the kind of laughter where if you didn't laugh you would cry.
AC: For those who haven't seen it, there's a sequence with a guy called John Nichols, who's the brother of Terry Nichols, who was put away in connection with the Oklahoma bombing. And he, I can imagine, must have been a gift of an interviewee - you can just sit back and let him talk. He's got the best line in the film; he says, "The pen is mightier than the sword, but it's always as well to have a sword handy." You couldn't write that up in a comedy, coming from a redneck guy who grows organic food, which I thought was quite ironic. When you find a John Nichols, you can just sit back and let him dig his own grave. You need people like that for each film, don't you?
MM: Yeah, and we sat there for four hours filming him and we used up a lot of film. He just went on and on. He was brilliant in the description of his beliefs, I had to hone that thing down to what you see in the film but we kept saying to ourselves, "OK, we'll put the rest in a DVD or something. It's just too good to waste." He goes off on this whole thing about how the Queen of England controls the American Bar Association. And with a straight face, he breaks it down for you to the point where you almost find yourself believing in it.
AC: So this is an author piece, it's the best way to describe the films that you make - you're in them, you write the text that goes into them and you go out to prove or disprove something you think needs proving or publicising. But there's a fine line, isn't there? You've been accused of being an egomaniac for the fact that you're in the film. You must feel self conscious about that because people know you now and expect to see you in the film. But you must want to hold back, a lot of times.
MM: I do. I read that, it's an odd thing. Clearly I am a person who suffers from a lack of ego. I mean, if I felt better about myself I wouldn't look this way. I don't know how to respond to that: "He puts himself in his film." Well, I never read that about Woody Allen or Spike Lee. I exist in my films as a stand-in for the audience. I'm just there doing what you probably would like to do and holding back from wanting to choke a few of these people. I'm just I try to keep my presence pretty low just because I don't like to look at myself up there on the screen.
AC: But there in Roger & Me, that was in 1989, when no one knew who you were. You were the everyman and you were going after Roger Smith, CEO of General Motors. And now, people know who you are. I would imagine there isn't a receptionist in the land that doesn't know your face and your hat. That must be good and bad as well. It must be great to be anonymous, but being Michael Moore must sometimes open doors.
MM: Well I feel bad for the receptionists because now when they see me coming, I see that look on their face. The day they've dreaded, you know. And like a dentist almost, I try to tell them, "This is going to be painless, we're just after the big man here. Just humour us here for a bit and we'll get past this painful moment." Yeah, but it has not affected my ability to get people to talk to me. For some reason, when people see the little red light on the camera, they want to be in the movies, they want to be on TV, or something. And even when they know it's going to be bad for them they still do it. It's kind of like running outside on Guy Fawkes night without your coat on - you know it's bad for you but you do it anyway because it's so much fun. It's more like Guy Fawkes week here, when do the explosions stop? I've been here a week now and I've not been able to figure this out. He essentially was the shoe bomber of the 17th century and wasn't able to light the shoe on fire, right? He was a complete fuck-up and now there's a whole fortnight devoted to him.
AC: Then Tony Blair puts us on high alert.
MM: What are we supposed to be afraid of?
AC: I don't know. I suppose afraid that the UN resolutions might not work.
MM: You've made your bed with the Bushman, now see what it feels like!
AC: On the publicity for the film here, it says, "Are they a nation of gun nuts, or just a nation of nuts?" Do you feel, when you're here, that you're a lapsed American?
MM: I really do think it's the latter. I think we're just nuts. I think we have a shared mental illness. It's almost in our DNA now: we're raised with the manifest destiny, the belief, that we have the right to resolve our conflicts through violence, and that we will shoot first and inspect for weapons later. That's our mentality, that's the way we're going to live our lives, that's how we're going to rule the world. And it will be our ruin if it's not addressed.
AC: Well, the film identifies the problem and you imagine going in that the problem is guns, but halfway through the film it's not the guns but the climate of fear that causes the problem. It's the fear that's sent down from above.
MM: One of the points of the film is that we are a nation of very frightened people. Often that is the MO of most bullies - bullies are actually very insecure and very scared. And we are constantly rattling the sabres because we're so afraid that something is out there. The wolf is out there. That's not just globally; it's personally, it's locally. And as often times is the case in our country, the wolf at the door is a black man. And the film explores how race is used to manipulate white people's fears. Most of the guns purchased in America - 90-95% of the guns - are purchased by white people in the suburbs and the safe parts of town where there is very little crime. And guns in the inner cities are usually guns that have been stolen from the white communities and end up in the inner cities. And in the film, you see a white kid who breaks into people's homes in the white areas, steals the guns and takes them to downtown Detroit and sells them for one-tenth the price. I guess I want the American audiences who see this film to examine why we are living in this constant culture of fear and what we can do to break the grip of that. As human beings, we're supposed to have fear; you do need to know when to be afraid so you can preserve your life. But when you're told to be afraid of everything, that there's always a new bogeyman - every two months, there's a new axe to add to the axis of evil - you lose your compass and you forget what you're supposed to be afraid of. And before you know it you're afraid of everything, and everybody is an enemy, and everybody's out to get you. You're not thinking straight. It's a big part of what I try to address in the film.
AC: A question that came up yesterday during the Q&A was, "Do you have a gun?"
MM: I have the gun which I won at the bank for opening the account, and I want to get rid of it; I don't want a gun in the house. Yes, I have that gun but not for long and there's no ammunition in it.
AC: You used your membership of the National Rifle Association to get that interview with Charlton Heston which is the finale of the film. And people were surprised that you are still in the NRA.
MM: I was a junior member when I was in the boy scouts when I was a kid, but I became a lifetime member after the Columbine massacre because my first thought after Columbine was to run against Charlton Heston for the presidency of the NRA. You have to be a lifetime member to be able to do that, so I had to pay $750 (about £450) to join. My plan was to get 5m Americans to join for the lowest basic membership and vote for me so that I'd win and dismantle the organisation. Unfortunately, I figured that's just too much work for me so instead I made this movie. But I'm still a lifetime member, until they excommunicate me... which is not far off, from what I hear.
AC: The Heston interview is, for some, somewhat contentious. For those who haven't seen the film, he invites Michael into his home to be interviewed, and some people have found that interview to be uncomfortable. He certainly did. Some have said that he seems to be senile or in some way not to be completely in control of his mental faculties and that you run rings around him. I didn't see it that way because this is the guy who appears in public straight after shootings and says, "We should all have rifles" and "To take my gun away from me, you'd have to prise it from out of my cold, dead hand". Do you see why some people are uncomfortable? Just talk about that interview you did with him.
MM: Well, I've read that in some American reviews of it. They feel sorry for him, he's an old man. Just before the film was released in America, he went on TV and announced that he had been told that he had Alzheimer-like symptoms. He doesn't have Alzheimer's but he might get it. And then he went out on the campaign trail for two or three weeks, 12 to 15 cities, campaigning for Senate and House candidates to make sure that Bush had control of the House and Senate. And he's in pre-production on his next movie. God I hope he doesn't get any bad diseases, I wouldn't wish that on anybody. I hope he lives a long life. I feel that the argument on my side of the fence is strong enough that I don't need him to be weakened by any disease. But I think they're very afraid of this film - they've been afraid of it since Cannes and they've been trying to figure out how to control it. Because it's not a gun control movie - this is a movie which says that something is more seriously and deeply wrong with the USA and our gun problem is a symptom of the larger illness that exists. Charlton Heston said in this interview with me, with no prompting from me, that the problem with America is "our mixed ethnicity". I'd asked a question about why Canadians don't have as many gun murders as we do and he said he was very proud that our country had been invented by those wise and dead white guys. And he kept making these kind of racial comments, but then he'd back off from them when I repeated the question to him. People were very afraid as to how that was going to come across. I don't know why anybody would feel sorry for a guy who leads the most powerful lobby group in the US and whose sole purpose is to make sure that people can have as many guns as they want to have and fire as many bullets as the guns can possibly fire. These people are insane and they have to be stopped. And the majority of Americans, according to every poll, want gun control. This group succeeds with a minority position and I think it's time to hear from the other side; time for the other side to not be afraid to stand up for what they believe in and until we correct the mental problem, we have to put the guns away. So I do believe in gun control - guns have to be put aside until we can act more Canadian-like.
AC: Somebody last night from Canada made you an honorary Canadian.
MM: It's happened many times now. Canadians will tell you they have a lot of problems and there are. But from our viewpoint, it looks like Nirvana. They somehow get to have a similar culture but with a hell of a lot less problems of the kind that we have. And I encourage people to think about how well it's worked in Canada - they have national healthcare, they have these things that we should be able to have, and they attempt to deal with their racial problems in a different way than we do, and they're not always in a rush to get behind us to go to war and drop bombs on people. I grew up on the border with Canada, and I remember watching the Canadian news as a kid during Vietnam, and you got the truth from Canada about Vietnam; you watch the American media, you didn't get the truth. And so I've always appreciated that about the Canadians, and how they provided refuge to people of my generation who did not want to kill Vietnamese, took them in with no questions asked - it's a very brave thing to do. So I've always been grateful for that.
AC: Your book was published the day before September 11. Since then, you've had another piece of timing, not sure if it's good timing or no, but since you've made the film, we've had the Washington sniper. That must have changed people's attitude away from gun ownership? That must have helped the film, possibly?
MM: No, we kill 40 people a day in the US. He just killed 10. We get that done by noon. I'm serious, what's the big news? Because he made it geographically interesting? Because he was such a good shot? Because the satellite trucks could all be parked in one parking lot and not have to travel too far to get the doughnuts? Why was that news? And why don't we know the names of the 40 people who get shot everyday since he was caught? Because they're spread out over 3,000 miles, their loss of life is less important? Less tragic? Less newsworthy? He just made it easier for the journalists. That's how I see it. And it was bizarre because he was black. You can't name a black serial killer in the US.
Audience members: Wayne Williams.
MM: He did not do it. That's a very good point - I wish somebody would make a movie about that. There are no black serial killers. That was the oddest thing that came out of that - that he and his stepson were black.
AC: How much did you shoot to get that two hours of gold dust?
MM: About 200 hours. And probably sifting through another 200 hours of archival footage. About a three-year process. It's a long process. I don't start out with a script or a hard and fast outline of what we've got to shoot. I have an idea but a lot of times, I'll start out and... I get this idea: "Let's go to Canada and show how they've got so few guns and that's why they have so few murders." And you get there and you find out they've got a lot of guns. Well, okay. I like that. I like being fooled by my own thoughts and being challenged and being found wrong. And I feel that if I let you in on that journey, you'll be as surprised as I am. As opposed to making a documentary film as they often do where there's a set script and you go out to try and shoot to fit the script, the idea, the thesis. I've always felt so grateful that I dropped out of school, that I never had to do a thesis, I wouldn't know how to organise and structure myself to film so that B follows A and C follows B. I don't think you should do that, especially a documentary film like this. Your feet should not be in cement. You should be open to whatever happens and go with it. It drives the budget and the producers batty because it can get costly but if you're willing to do that you'll end up with something that will reach a wider audience because you've got a much more interesting film.
AC: But documentary can be as manipulative as fiction, can't it? If you want to make it that way, you can make the facts fit.
MM: But that's true of anything.
AC: But you're led by the subject rather than the other way around. Some documentary film-makers just make the films that they want to make, they know what they want to make before they start.
MM: I think most documentaries are made that way, and that's why most people don't watch them. Because you can see what's coming and that's not interesting. You like the shock and the surprise of the twist and the turn that it'll take. That's just basic storytelling. And if a documentary is set up so that it doesn't have those twists and turns, then it's not very interesting to watch as a movie. It's sad that too many documentary film-makers set out to make a documentary and not a movie. And they're very well meaning and well intentioned and the issues they care about are important, but maybe they should do something else if they feel strongly enough about that issue but not use an art form where you're asking people to sit in a theatre like this and essentially be entertained. I don't mean entertained in a light way, entertainment can run the gamut. I remember thinking when I started this film, would I tell my wife on a Friday night, "Let's go watch that gun control movie"? I would never go see that. I would never go see a documentary about the arms race. Why would I want to go see that? What's it going to tell me? That it's bad! If I'm going to get facts and figures to enlighten myself about how many nuclear warheads are still active I can read that someplace, I don't need to go a movie to see that. And you've got to ask yourself, who's going to eat popcorn to this? I'm not debasing it. I'm saying that what's great about this form is the communal experience of sitting in the dark with strangers and viewing something that's going to engage us. And that's what I'm thinking when I'm making a film.
AC: You would imagine that getting people out of their houses to go watch a documentary would be as hard as getting a rifle out of Charlton Heston's cold dead hand. But you've done it now, more than once. You made Roger & Me, which at that time was the most successful non-concert documentary film of all time. And you're about to beat Hoop Dreams with this, if things keep going they way they're going at the moment. You've done it more than once. And you've done TV as well, but you're not so keen to do TV anymore, are you? You're more interested in making films that people go actively to see.
MM: Yeah, television takes a lot out of you. To do a weekly series and to make it good - and I'm very proud of the ones that we did - but it really is hard. It's very draining and the networks are difficult to deal with in America, in terms of what we can get on the air. Sadly, with the last series of The Awful Truth, Channel 4 - which was a co-producer - dumped it in the midnight slot and it's so debilitating when that happens. You have so little control over it and you certainly don't own the network. I don't know what the problem was but it's just soured me on the whole thing.
Michael Moore: part II
The second part of Michael Moore's talk at the NFT
Monday November 11, 2002
AC: You're a very imposing man, physically, but you must sometimes feel very small in America. We can only guess that you feel dwarfed by the task
ahead of you. Even though you have a camera and an audience behind you, you must sometimes feel, "I'm just a little man"?
[Laughter from audience]
MM: We went by High & Mighty today. In America, there aren't special needs stores for people like me. In Kmart, there's a whole department called Big Fat Slobs. When we saw the store, we just felt loved, for the first time, to see the store called High & Mighty.... I don't think that answered your question.
AC: But the task ahead, it must dwarf you. Somebody asked last night if you get depressed, which is a similar question. You forge onwards; how do you keep your spirits up? It does seem like a difficult job that you've set yourself here.
MM: Jeez, I think I'm right. The things I believe in, I believe strongly enough in them and I think I'm right. When I'm wrong, then I change my mind and I'm right again. I try to keep my sense of humour. I know what you're saying. I know there are Americans in here - they're just here to check if they can go back now, if I've fixed things for them. No, I haven't. So stay here.
It's a good question and I don't have a good answer for it. Maybe there's something in that Catholic upbringing - where all things seem unattainable, everything is insurmountable, the odds are always against you. I'm the person in the lifeboat, where if the lifeboat was full of holes and going down and all there was was a dixie cup, I'd be the one still bailing the water even though clearly that dixie cup would not be able to get the water out in time to save the boat. But I would be of this belief that it could happen. Maybe I've just had too many experiences in my life where I've had things which were not supposed to happen to me: none of this was ever supposed to happen to me, I was never supposed to have a film career, and I didn't go to film school. I didn't have this or that and I was making $99 a week the year Roger & Me came out. That seemed to happen so maybe this other stuff can happen.
AC: But there is a moment in the film where you manage to get a major store to stop selling bullets. This was a heartwarming moment - it seems to be a small victory but a victory nonetheless, so it must be that, presumably, that keeps you going?
MM: Yeah. My mom died this year. We rushed her to the hospital and the doctor came out and said that there was a 90% chance that she would make it. And I went, "Yes, that's great!" So they operate, and the surgeon came out and said the chances were now 70-30. I'm like, "That's good!" Somewhere in the middle of the night, the doctor went to 50-50, and I was still, "Yes, that's great!" And then they had to put the ventilator down her throat and he said the chances were now probably less than 20%. By the time my sister arrived from California, he said that it was down to about one in a 100. And I'm in the hallway with a doctor and I'm going, "Yes, do that. One in a 100 is great. One in a 100, she can live." And my sister was saying, "Mike, Mike, it's not going to happen." And still I had this belief that it was going to happen.
AC: It's that which keeps you going, when the odds are against you. When in the elections only 36% of the electorate turn out and vote and therefore can't change the country in the midterms - that could knock you out, but no.
MM: Maybe what I'm saying is that maybe I'm just crazy. That maybe there isn't any hope for the United States. We've had our moment, we had a chance to do great things with it. We started out by doing a few good things but then we blew it. And now, maybe there isn't any hope. I still think there's hope for you, for this country and for the rest of the world. You haven't quite turned into us yet. You haven't quite started to scare the shit out of everybody here yet, where you're behaving in a very strange and bizarre fashion. So I think, let the Americans go to watch this film and it will exist as a document of what we were at the beginning of the 21st century. Maybe if this film gets shown in the rest of the world, people will walk out of the theatres going, "Okay, let's get together. This is not how we want to end up."
AC: I feel it's time to hand over to the audience. I would say that you probably are hope on two legs for them and for us and we're kind of glad you're here.
MM: Thank you for saying that; and I'm not going to give up.
Q: You must be NRA enemy No 1. Are you afraid for your life?
MM: No, no. It's not my time yet. You should only fear for my life if you see me at the drive-through window at McDonald's. That's going to off me much quicker than anybody from the NRA. The picture of me dead in the paper next month that you'll get off the wire services will more than likely have a shamrock shake from McDonald's spilled all the way down my front.
Q: You've talked about how people are "afraid" to distribute your films - have you heard of some of these other films that people seem to be afraid of, like 11' 09" 01? What have your learned that you can tell them about getting distribution for their films?
MM: That's a good question. I make my films for a mass audience, even though I realise I'm probably not going to get that mass audience. I believe that I'm in the mainstream of Americans, and so if I make something that I would enjoy then they would enjoy it, too. Then, a film studio sees it and they think the same thing and it all sort of happens. A film like that, 11' 09" 01, I don't know what to do with a film like that. I'm not a distributor. But it's sad that more of those films don't get distribution.
AC: I think that laughter is still your secret weapon. There's obviously very serious stuff in this film but there are laughs in it and it helps the medicine go down, as it were.
Q: What's your next project?
MM: My next project, I'm making a funny September 11 film. I am. It's called Fahrenheit 911. There's a film about healthcare in America that I was making before I started this film. It's called Sicko and that film will hopefully put this issue on the agenda for the next elected president that we have. But right now, my next project is this live show that we're trying out here in London.
Q: What did you learn from making Canadian Bacon?
MM: I want to make more fiction features and I hope I get to do them. I was just reading the little Guardian write-up here about Canadian Bacon being "like Barry Levinson's Wag The Dog". Wag The Dog was made three years after Canadian Bacon.
Q: Did Kmart actually follow through on their promise to stop selling bullets? And secondly, is there any way that we can stop the US and Britain bombing Iraq?
MM: Well, I happen to have the answers to both of those questions. The answer to the first question is yes, Kmart did. As to the second question, nothing. I think it's on the cards, I think they've got it all planned out, I think they're going to be quite successful and I think you'll be surprised at how quickly it'll all be over. They will have the second largest supply of oil in the world, in their hand, just where they wanted. The demonstration here the other week was fantastic - that many people came out, that was very heartening. Bush cannot get away with American public opinion for this if he's doing it by himself, if he can't claim the Allies with him. It was horrible to see Blair backing him on this. We need Blair and the British public to stop this. No one is more responsible for this than Tony Blair. And in my mind, he's more responsible because he knows better. Bush is an idiot; Blair knows better and he's forgotten where he came from and he's taking a piss on what he was supposed to have been. And the feeling that everyone had on election night in 1997, when the dark ages of Thatcherism were just removed, everyone remembers the feeling, right? And to think that in five short years, he's put a friendly face on Thatcherism, it's absolutely appalling. I hope he felt the repudiation in the streets of London a couple of weeks ago.
Q: How do you set up the wonderful set pieces in your films? For instance that cop in Bowling For Columbine who you asked if he could arrest people for pollution.
MM: I don't make BBC style documentaries. Everything is very random and unplanned. The cops just showed up and I just went up to them and asked them what was going on. And the way they were ignoring me just pissed me off, so I just thought I'd ask if he could arrest anybody for the pollution in the air. And later, I remember looking at it in the editing room and realising that it was one of the big points in the film, isn't it? That we're not afraid of the things that we really should be afraid of. All those things in the film just happened. Getting Heston, I tried for two years to get him and I'd given up. We'd been in Los Angeles to film those parts in South Central and we'd checked out of the hotel and were on our way to the airport and passed by one of those star map signs. One of the people in the crew van said, "Hey let's get a star map and see if we can find Heston." I said, "No, let's just get to the airport; I just want to get to my seat." As soon as I said that, everybody in the van went, "I want a star map. I want a star map." So we stop at the next sign and I get one and show it to them. Now it's like they're challenging me, like I don't have it anymore. So I took their dare and drove up the hill. I get out and ring the bell, and out of that little box came the voice of Moses. If you see the film again, you can hear my voice shake because I'm like, "Holy shit!" And as you see, he told me to come back the next day and I thought for sure, somebody'll put an end to this. And we show up at 8.30 and the gates open. It was just amazing. But that was not planned. We'd pretty much finished.
Q: Who/what are the influences on your work?
MM: Monty Python. I can tell you who my favourite film-makers are - certainly all the films of Stanley Kubrick would be up there. As a kid, a teenager, really latching on to the feeling that film really matters - that it can have this powerful impact. One of my favourite documentaries of all time is Hearts and Minds by Peter Davis. Excellent, excellent film - if you watch just one film about Vietnam, that's the one. There was a Japanese documentary called The Emperor's Naked Army Marches On. It's about a veteran of the second world war who wants to find out what happened to the other privates in his battalion who were left on this island at the end of the war. Near the end of the film, he comes upon the colonel who was in charge of his battalion. When asked if he knew what had happened to the other privates, the colonel said, "Yes. We ate them because we were starving." So the film-maker just sets the camera down and goes over and just beats the shit out of this guy. It's the most amazing piece of film-making. It's so wonderful and lyrical all the way through up until this point, when it becomes Larry Clark-ish.
Q: What were you doing before Roger & Me?
MM: When I was 18, I became the first 18-year-old to be elected to public office. I dropped out of college in my sophomore year - it was a commuter campus, I couldn't find a parking space, so I dropped out - and started an alternative newspaper called the Flint Voice and ran that for 10 years, and then was unemployed in 1986 and started making Roger & Me.
Q: Was the Flint Voice a leftwing paper?
MM: Yeah, I guess so. We didn't use those terms in Flint.
Q: Do you think that all America's enemies are just fantasies to keep everyone in fear?
MM: No. The country was attacked on September 11 and 3,000 people were killed. That was not a fantasy. Who did it? I'd like to know. I'd like justice to happen to those who did that. I don't believe it was 19 guys at some Florida dipshit flying school who figured out how to do this. And as soon as we can say out loud who did it... nothing will happen.
Q: Do you have a theory as to who did it?
MM: Yeah. I'll give you a hint. If 15 of the 19 guys all come from one country, and that country's called Saudi Arabia, and you bomb Afghanistan, did we miss? If 15 out the 19 hijackers came from Cuba, do you think we'd bomb Bolivia? I don't think so. But we can't bomb daddy's oil buddies, can we? I wish that aliens from outer space could come and clear it up for us. If we could just see through their eyes how bizarre we are... Usually it's larger groupings called nations that attack each other like that. America's biggest enemy is itself - I wish we'd focus more on that.
Q: What is the more important question - who or why?
MM: It's always the why. We rarely get the why in the media because that requires hard work on the part of the media to get the answer.
Q: Do you have a theory as to why September 11 happened?
MM: Do I have to go through the whole next movie for you? There's a company called Unical. They wanted to build a pipeline through Afghanistan - the Taliban were meeting with them in Houston for a number of years in the late 90s. The BBC already ran the news here. That story exists - but the why was not because the third world was rising up to destroy America; the people who attacked America on September 11 were multimillionaires and billionaires. Even the minions they got to perform the act of murder were not people from the camps, the poor - they were middle class and upper middle class hijackers.
Q: Woody Allen was here recently and said that September 11 was a distraction from what's going on. What is the big evil then? What are you distracted from?
MM: We're distracted from the fact that the top 1% that own most of America and most of Britain are getting away with bloody murder while we're all focused on something else. They've been lining their pockets for the last 20 years and they've been doing it in such a skilful way that they can buy politicians and be upfront about it. And our two democracies have been taken away from us - they're not in our hands anymore. So that's the greater evil. And we don't want to be living in a world where three million people don't have clean drinking water - we have the means and the technology to allow everyone to have a glass of clean drinking water anytime they want.
Q: In the history of American intervention in the film, why did you leave out the statistics about US involvement in the Middle East?
MM: It's a legitimate criticism.
Q: Why are you not clear cut about your stand on Israel and Palestinians in the occupied territories?
MM: I think all gentiles should stand up and tell all our Jewish brothers and sisters that we will never again let happen to them what was done to them in the last century by people of our ilk. And that we will defend them at all costs. No 2, that position has no integrity if we will not do the same for Palestinian people. They need to know and not trust us when we say that we will defend them if we don't defend those people who are in worse shape right now. The religion I was brought up in teaches us that we will be judged by the way we treat the least among us and we've lost our way on the Christian end of things. I think the hell that has developed in the occupied territories is now back page news in America, and I think it needs to be front page news because it's partly the core of what needs to be addressed with all the issues around September 11.
Q: What happened to the six-year-old who did the Flint shooting?
MM: Sadly, he's been permanently taken from his mother by the state of Michigan and he will never be returned to her. And he's been put in a series of foster homes, and I've just heard that he was involved in a stabbing incident where he used a knife on another kid. He is, I think, horribly damaged. It's a terrible, tragic situation.
Q: What do you think of the internet for putting information out there?
MM: I think the internet is an incredible egalitarian way for us to keep talking to each other and communicating. It's a great way to get information and get the word out. It's really the thing that saved my book - it was how people heard about my book in the US. I was getting 70,000 hits a month in January on my website. They told me last month that it was getting 2m hits a day after the film came out - 50m a month. The thing is to make sure that the corporations never control it so that they make money off it and it goes directly to them. They may never be able to figure that out.
Q: At what point do you think America blew it?
MM: We blew it from the beginning - when we said that black people are three-fifths of a human being; that's written in our constitution, that same sacred document that says you have a right to a gun, which frankly it doesn't. Ultimately, at different times, we've tried to make it right, then we fail, then we get better. But I certainly think that, as of Tuesday's election, this is the first time since Eisenhower that we've got a Republican White House, Senate and Congress. And these aren't the kind of Republicans Eisenhower was - he was quite moderate. These are rightwing, Christian coalition nutcases who are hell bent on destroying our civil liberties and turning the country around as fast as they can because they know they've only got two years to do it. Because somebody's going to figure it out and take it back from them, like we did two years after Newt Gingrich. But for those two years of Newt Gingrich it was pretty bleak, so it's going to look really bad for the next couple of years.
Q: Do you really think the Democrats can make a difference?
MM: I don't really care about the titles. The Greens have not really been able to organise and make a real run at the next election. I think we need to hijack the Democratic party - they're so lame to begin with; they can't even find candidates to run in most of those races and so the Republicans run unopposed. Clearly, there is a Democratic party in name only. They've got a name, they've got a building in Washington, they've got a logo and the stationery printed. It might be better to make a run at locally going in and taking over local Democratic parties.
Q: Did you have problems financing the film?
MM: No. It was financed by Canadians, and it took them 30 seconds to give me the money. And they pleaded with me to take all that positive stuff about Canadians out because they were embarrassed by it.
AC: I think we have time for just another two to three questions.
MM: If I answer them really fast, I can do five.
Q: What has happened to the majority who think like you?
MM: People just got lazy.
Q: How many caps do you own, Mike?
MM: Too many.
Q: Is there a documentary that you'd like to make?
MM: Yes, one on Israel and one on the occupied territories.
Q: It struck me that between your long-term solution and Chris Rock's quick fix, you might have the whole issue wrapped up quickly. Are there any collaborations you'd like to form?
MM: Yes. We're going to bring Louis Theroux back.
Q: If you made a satirical film about Britain, what would it be on?
MM: I'd make a film about Channel 4 and the BBC and my experiences with them.
Q: You talked about the fear mentality so inherent in my generation - how do you change that mentality in us when that's all we know?
MM: I can't answer that quickly. I would tell you not to be afraid. If you go to school in America, as bad as it is, you still have three times greater chance of being struck by lightning on your way to school than of being killed in school. It's not as bad as we've made it seem. Just as the sniper was a small thing - you had a one in 5m chance of being shot in Washington by the sniper that night: those are pretty good odds, but everybody was hiding in their houses. You can't live that way.
Q: Do you have any friends in the US political arena?
MM: Twenty Congressmen were supposed to sponsor a Congressional screening of this film - I don't know if it actually happened or not. And the only person who came close to my way of thinking in the US Senate died in a plane crash the week before the election. The one voice of opposition in 100 and he dies in a plane crash. But then, change doesn't occur from the top down, it's from the bottom up and I'm not so worried about whether the people in power supported this. If you read the book, you know that the cameraman on Roger & Me was George W Bush's cousin, which at the time, I didn't know. And the only time I met George W Bush, he said to me, "Hey Mike! Go find real work." Of all people!
AC: It only remains for me to thank Michael and I'm sure if he stood for office, we'd all vote him in.