October 15 -- Michael Moore participated in "A Conversation With ..." at Bay Street Theater in Sag Harbor, as part of the Hamptons International Film Festival.
When Michael Moore set out to direct his latest documentary, “Where To Invade Next,” he presented himself with a challenge: make a film about America without filming a single shot in the country.
With an American flag draped over his shoulders, he set off across the Atlantic, ready to pillage Europe—for ideas.
The resulting documentary, screened during the Hamptons International Film Festival last weekend, marks the end of Mr. Moore’s six-year hiatus from the director’s seat. The film follows Mr. Moore on a quest to seek out some of the world’s best schools, prisons and government systems in order to bring them back to America, while following three guidelines: “Don’t shoot, don’t steal oil, [and] find something we can use.”
As part of the festival’s “A Conversation With ...” series, Mr. Moore sat down for an interview last Sunday opposite Marshall Fine, chair of the New York Film Critics Circle, at Bay Street Theater in Sag Harbor to discuss his new film, politics, and what it means to be Michael Moore.
A prolific force during the post-9/11 Bush administration, the controversial director earned an Oscar for his response to the school shooting epidemic in “Bowling for Columbine” (2002) and garnered numerous nominations for “Sicko” (2007) and “Capitalism: A Love Story” (2009).
Adorned in his signature sweatshirt and trucker hat, the director explained his disappearing act was partly due to personal issues.
“In the last year and a half, my father died, and I got divorced,” Mr. Moore said. “But I’ve made two very good friends: Ben and Jerry.”
Self-deprecating humor aside, Mr. Moore admitted he was tired of being “singled out as the devil,” referring to the constant stream of hate he continues to receive from right-wing pundits. After his scandalous Academy Awards speech in 2003, in which he condemned then-President George W. Bush for sending the country to war in Iraq for “fictitious” reasons, Mr. Moore said he received numerous death threats and was forced to employ a staff of ex-Navy Seals and Green Berets as bodyguards.
In the years since, the director said he’s experienced a half dozen attempted assaults by men armed with metal pipes, knives and guns. The worst of it, he said, was when a man from Illinois attempted to plant a fertilizer bomb under his family’s home. However, the plan was foiled when his AK-47 fired accidentally, alerting Mr. Moore’s security guards. He said the suspect was found with a list of assassination targets, including Rosie O’Donnell. “It was a list of lesbians—and me,” he said.
“Life starts to suck in a huge way,” he said. “It wrecks your family life.”
Even this past weekend, Mr. Moore said he was bombarded by two “angry white guys” on Main Street in East Hampton, noting that they looked like insurance salesmen.
Nonetheless, Mr. Moore remains optimistic going forward. Although his previous films led some Americans to imagine otherwise, the Michigan native said he believes in his country. “We pull off amazing things,” he said. “The American public is kept ignorant, but when people learn, they do the right thing.”
Mr. Moore remained surprisingly unperturbed about the future of the White House as he responded to an audience member asking his opinion on the upcoming election. “There isn’t going to be a Republican in the White House unless our side stays home,” Mr. Moore said.
Although vague on which Democratic candidate has his vote, the liberal icon poked fun at front-runners Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton. “He’s like the guy who just missed his plane,” he said, with a laugh, of Mr. Sanders, quoting a line from Stephen Colbert’s late-night show. As for Ms. Clinton, he quipped about her stance on advocacy groups, such as Black Lives Matter: “Hillary will do her political thing: ‘Well, I think all lives matter—black lives, brown lives …’ No! Just tell them that their lives matter.”
Mr. Moore also summed up the main difference between the country’s political parties. Republicans are “up at six in the morning looking for a way to screw us,” he said. Meanwhile, Democrats “are so loosey-goosey, we can’t even find our car keys.”
It was only after an audience question, though, that he commented on The Donald.
“Trump is a great performance artist,” he smiled.
Mr. Moore recalled appearing on a talk show with Mr. Trump about 15 years ago, when he heard the garish billionaire was actually nervous to go on with him. “He asked me, ‘We’re not going to get into it, are we?’ I had to calm this guy down.”
Years later, he now says Mr. Trump could very well be the Republican nominee, though he doubts the former “Apprentice” star actually believes the words coming out of his mouth. “It’s a good shtick,” he said.
Regardless of who wins the nomination, Mr. Moore stressed that this election will be decided by America’s youth. “Candidates have to inspire young people,” he said. “They can’t lose the youth vote.”
If he were elected president, Mr. Moore said, his first course of action would be absolution of all student loans. “We’ve made our kids pay tens of thousands of dollars,” he said. “A rotten deal’s been handed to them.”
Free tuition is one of many social systems Mr. Moore experiences in his new film. In Finland, private school tuition is illegal, he said.
“None of us had heard of these things before the film,” he said. “I didn’t know there hadn’t been an arrest [for drug use] in Portugal in the last 15 years.”
While “Where To Invade Next” looks at other countries’ successes—ranging from safe, ideal prisons in Norway to women ruling Iceland—Mr. Moore said he is optimistic for the United States. “Things change all the time.”
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