What can you say about Michael Moore that hasn’t already been said either praising or slamming him on hundreds of political blogs and television shows? As ComingSoon.net quickly learned at the filmmaker’s New York press conference for his new doc SiCKO, Michael Moore is more than capable of speaking for himself, especially when it comes to the topic of the HMOs and the possibility of National Health Care that’s the subject of the film. Despite having spent much of his life in Flint, Michigan (something he reminds us of in every movie), New York City is very much Moore Country, which is why 70 local journalists and from other countries sat and waited patiently for Moore to arrive, having been delayed 45 minutes while shooting his segment for “20/20.” At least he knew where to place the blame this time
Michael Moore: The problem with these documentaries is if I’m with actors in the film, they could help do some of this, right? But it’s just me! So they set up thirty things to do in a day, and believe me, I haven’t stopped for lunch. My apologies. Please forgive me for the behavior of the Weinstein Company. I will give only honest answers!
ComingSoon.net: What was your starting point for this film and how did you map out where it went from there?
Moore: This film began with what I did on my TV show, where we save this guy’s life by embarrassing his health insurance company into paying for an operation they wouldn’t pay for. And I thought, what if we did ten of those and made that a feature film? That was the original idea. But then I thought, after we started doing that, you know, we’re only going to save ten lives. Eighteen thousand people each year in America die, simply because they don’t have health insurance, and God knows how many die with health insurance, as I show in my film. I started thinking that maybe we should be taking on the larger system. Not just one company. Not just one person’s problems. So I made a conscious decision, in that process, to change the course of the film. Then, when I asked for people to send me their stories over the internet, well, I got a lot of stories from people who didn’t have insurance and what they’ve been through, but the majority of horror stories were from people who had health insurance, the things they had to go through, thinking that they’re fully covered. “Oh, yeah, I got benefits on this job. Full benefits.” You know how many times you’ve said that, if you had that kind of job? Wait until you get a severe illness. Wait to something happens and watch what the company does to try and not pay the bill because they can’t make a profit, if they pay all these bills.
CS: Did you have any idea while you were making this movie how hard it would be to get it released? You actually had to sneak it into the Cannes Film Festival?
Moore: The Bush administration sent me a certified letter ten days before the Cannes Film Festival informing me that I was under investigation for criminal and civil penalties because I took a group of 9/11 rescue workers, who were not receiving health care for the injuries that they incurred as a result of helping down at Ground Zero, took them down to Cuba. It’s illegal for Americans to travel to Cuba unless you’re a journalist or doing journalistic endeavors. The documentary film is a work of journalism. No laws were broken. So just an attempt by the Bush administration to use our federal agencies, as they have been known to do in the past to politically harass opponents, in this case me. Our lawyers felt that in order to protect the film, just in case they would come after the film, that we should make a duplicate master of it and have it stored in Canada. So in case they claimed that, if we brought back 10,000 Cuban cigars, they could confiscate those cigars. They could claim that I took blank film down there that was worth nothing essentially. Filmed scenes now had value because they were going to be in this movie, and thus they could potentially come and confiscate the negatives of this film. Now to even have to say these words in a free country, that I’d have to worry about the confiscation of my film, or going after me as a documentary filmmaker simply because I want to make my movie; this is an absurd thing to even have to deal with. But I guess we had to learn to deal with a lot of absurd things in the last 7 years.
CS: Do you think that your movie will be able to change things in this country?
Moore: I do these things in part because I do believe that things will change. I believe that the American people when they’ve had enough do make their feelings known. I was thinking about earlier this year. The American people, without any kind of organization, without any kind of political movement or whatever, stopped O.J. Simpson’s book from being published. And eventually resulted in the firing of the publisher. That was an amazing thing. How did it happen? It was just because there was a mood, a feeling all through the country that they didn’t want this book. And they didn’t think he should profit. And they didn’t particularly care for publisher, who was going to publish this book. And suddenly, no book, no publisher. How did that happen? Without any organization, money, PR, ads on TV? Sometimes things happen when the people will it to happen. And I believe the American public has had it with this broken health care industry and system and they have been just waiting for the moment to rise up and demand change. I hope this film helps provide the spark for that.
CS: What happened to the guy from MooreWatch, the Anti-Michael Moore site, whose sick wife you helped out? Have you had a chance to talk with him since then?
Moore: The man who runs the anti-Michael Moore website who I helped in the film, I called him just before the first screening of this film at the Cannes Film Festival because I didn’t want him blind-sided by it. You know, getting a call from one of you guys or whatever. I thought the decent thing to do was to let him know that it was me that sent the check. I left a voicemail message on his phone, telling him that. Within 15 minutes, that voicemail message was placed on his site for everyone to hear, which you can hear if you want. He immediately posted a very nice note, thanking me for helping him and wishing the film well. Now of course, he’s a blogger, so he’s up and down depending on what day and how he’s feeling. But generally, he’s been at least personable to me, very thankful and grateful. It was not what everyone predicted, in terms of the people who worked on the film with me. Most people thought we were really going to tick him off. I was the lone dissenter in that group. I felt that he would respond well to an active kindness. That he would know that even though we might have political disagreements, that this was coming from a place in my heart that believes that even he should be able to see a doctor and not have to worry about paying for it.
CS: It seems like a lot of people dislike you and are ready to slam the movie before seeing it. Is it all politics? Why do you think so many people are against you?
Moore: Who dislikes me? Do you have a list? Can I see it? What are their names? (laughs) Seriously, I feel like I’m in a time-warp. If you’d asked that question three years ago, or how about ask me that question backstage at the Oscars in 2003, that’s a legitimate question. But now wait, you’re asking me that question in 2007 where 70% of the country now agrees with me and I agree with them. Seventy percent of the country doesn’t support Mr. Bush. Seventy percent of the country is against the war. I’m actually in the mainstream majority, which is a little weird. But that’s where I sit now. I don’t sit out on the edge, I sit here. Four plus years ago, I was booed off the Oscar stage, for in the fifth day of the war, daring to suggest, that we’re being led to war for fictitious reasons. People did not want to hear that at that time, I understand that. Eventually they came around and realized that what I was saying both on that Oscar stage and in “Fahrenheit 9/11” was the truth. People remembered that in “Fahrenheit 9/11” 3 years ago, I went to a place called Walter Reede Hospital to show how the soldiers were being treated. That was three years ago. The mainstream media didn’t deal with it until just a few months ago. That is the story of my life as a filmmaker. From General Motors, when no one listened then and now they’re near bankruptcy. To “Bowling for Columbine,” where we still now are faced with another school shooting a couple of months ago, to “Fahrenheit 9/11.” That is the way it is.
(cellular phone rings) Hang on, that is my phone I’m so sorry. You know who it is? It’s Ari Emanuel. You want to hear it? Hello? Hey, I’m going to put you on speakerphone. Hey, Ari. You’re sitting here on speakerphone in a press conference with 100 journalists. You want to say hi?
Ari Emanuel: Oh, oh, f*ck.
Moore: (laughs) Ladies and gentlemen, Ari Gold! (referring to the “Entourage” character based on Manuel.)
Emanuel: I’m gonna bite my tongue. How’s the press doing?
Moore: It doesn’t look like they fed them very well. Because I’ve always believed that a well-fed press tells the truth.
Emanuel: I agree with that. I completely agree with that.
Moore: Would you like me to call you back later?
Emanuel: No, I want to go over 2 or 3 things, if I don’t keep putting my foot in my mouth.
Moore: (laughs) Okay, Ari, thank you for joining us. Let’s give Ari a big round of applause. (hangs up) Sorry. It’s of risk to put him up to the microphone, believe me. That show was like a PG version of the real thing. Sorry. I’m very sorry to waste your time on that.
CS: The issue of health care isn’t a partisan issue, yet certain right wing press seem to be after you despite this being a universal concern.
Moore: Most Americans, conservatives and liberals, would say those nine million children that go uninsured in this country we should at least say that children have a right to see a doctor and not have to worry about paying for it. I think I’d find agreement on that across the entire political spectrum. So why do those few remaining voices in support of the war and in support of Mr. Bush continue to attack me? They would attack me if I opened up a factory that produced American flags, and I spent the day promoting the sale. In fact, if I gave away a thousand American flags every day, they’d find some way to go after me. If I didn’t exist, they would have to invent me. What else would they do on their talk radio and on their cable news? The right wing media, they already sound like dinosaurs and I think their days are numbered, in terms of how the American people are responding to them. I’ve read a lot of reviews of this movie. There’s literally one bad review of this movie theirs! They must feel awfully lonely on this. I look at that and think will I ever catch a break with these people? Is it important that I catch a break with them? I’m just like you. I want people to like me.
CS: You’ve said that you consider documentary films to be journalism, but this movie is being marketed as a comedy? Do you consider yourself a comedian as much as a journalist?
Moore: I consider myself a satirist, and I think satire has always been considered a form of journalism. I mean the Op-Ed pages in our newspaper years ago always contained great satire that Mark Twain would write and others likes him. Will Rodgers. In the old days, people didn’t think humor was necessarily divorced from politics, opinions, journalism. My films are like the Op-Ed page, and the Op-Ed page in a newspaper, I think is journalism. It’s opinion based on facts. That’s what I produce in my films, but I’m also trying to entertain people and I respect, first of all, the fact that I’m making a film. I’m not running a political movement here. I’m not a preacher. I’m a filmmaker. So, first and foremost, I’m trying to make a film that people are going to love to go to on a Friday night, where they walk out of that theatre with exhilarated sense of, “Wow!” We all feel that, don’t we? Whenever we go to the movies, we wished we had this and how often do we get it? Where it’s like, “Man, I haven’t seen anything like that in a while! That was something!” That’s what I’m going for. That’s what every filmmaker goes for. And ultimately, that’s what I’m trying to do. If a few people would be thinking about some of this, maybe doing something, all the better. I’m satisfied if they have a good laugh, or a good cry, get angry, whatever, leave theatre and feel like they’ve just seen something they’ve never seen before. When you go to my movies, you know that to be a fact. I will take you to a place you never been before. I will take you on a boat into Guantanamo Bay. You’ve never seen anybody sail a boat in the Guantanamo Bay. I will show you Mr. Richard Nixon, through his Watergate tapes, of nothing to do with Watergate, but actually talking about how these HMOs got their modern day beginnings. You’ve never seen that before and that’s what happens in my movies. Thing after thing of stuff you’re not going to get on the evening news. And I hope it’s funny-some of it.
CS: (from a Danish reporter) Did you find anything that surprised you, in a positive way, about the American health care system?
Moore: One thing that surprised me in a positive way while making this film is how many doctors in the United States now support socialized medicine. That did not use to be the case. They were the biggest fighters and opponents of it. They now realized that they’ve been had. They supported the HMOs in the beginning. They thought managed care, keep the cost down. Insurance companies said “You’ll make more money, we’ll make more money, we’ll all make more money by providing less care.” Well, really what the insurance companies were going to do was make sure the doctor’s didn’t get paid either. Not only the patient that can’t get their operations paid for or whatever. If you went to a doctor’s office 30 years ago, there’s one person behind the window, taking your appointments, checking you out and all that, right? Now they’ve got 5 or 6, sitting behind the glass window, doing all the paperwork, on the phone, hear them yelling and screaming at the HMO, fighting to get a twenty dollar bill paid. Doctors have been ruined by this system. They have been demoralized by this system. Now they are the biggest supporter of real change. That is a great thing to have happened. As far as this film will do overseas, I think this film should act as a warning to countries like Denmark and other countries thinking of privatizing their system because they want to go to the American way. I want to say to you, I know you like us as people, right? As individuals, right? Present company included, right? But I warn you not to go our way on some of these things, because if you go our way of creating a society of a bigger gap between the haves and the have-nots, and you have more and more have-nots in Denmark. As you have more have-nots, you know what your side is going to look like? It’s going to look like us too, in the other way, the bad way. You’re going to have more crime. You’re going to have more despair amongst those who are in the lower class, struggling to get by, scrambling for the few crumbs that are available. You don’t want to live in that society. You’re going to feel less safe in that society. Seriously, for your own selfish reasons, don’t go that way because you won’t be able to live the way that you’ve been living. I hope this films acts as an encouragement to those who have socialized medicine, to maintain your systems. Fix them if they need to be fixed. They all have problems. Fix them but don’t throw the baby out with bath water, as they say in this country.
CS: Since American doctors seem to be coming around to the idea of organized medicine, does that mean the AMA is still against it, and did you try to talk to them or Humana or some of the other groups you criticized in the film?
Moore: I believe the mainstream media has done such an excellent job letting the health insurance companies and the pharmaceutical companies have their say. First of all, they advertise on the news. Many times during the year, you can open up one of our news weekly and see a 12 page advertising section sponsored by a pharmaceutical company. You can turn on your local news all across America, just about any night and hear these words, “Tonight’s health report is brought to you by blankety-blank pharmaceutical company.” The stories of the pharmaceutical companies and the health insurance companies is told. My film acts as a balance. I exist to provide balance, and I tell you, it isn’t much balance. They’re on every day, all day. My film is 2 hours. If for 2 hours during this entire year, people are exposed to the other side of the story, isn’t that ok? It’s amazing how they go after me. You asked me back there, “You’re biased. You have only one side.” Well, yeah, I have a bias. I have a bias on behalf of the little guy who doesn’t have a say. I’m lucky enough to be able to have this bully pulpit, to be able to say the things I say, on behalf of the people who don’t have a voice. The pharmaceutical companies and corporate America, they’ve got their voice. They own the networks and they can say whatever they want, all the time, and they do. So can we just have 2 hours for this side to have their say? I hope so, I think so. That’s what I’m trying to do.
CS: (from a reporter from a Cuban newspaper) There’s been lots of talk about your trip to Cuba, and the Cuban population in Miami feels that you have may have deliberately portrayed the country in a kinder and gentler way. Can you talk about that?
Moore: First of all, when you say the Cuban community in Miami, they haven’t seen the film yet, so when they accuse me of doing anything, they’re accusing me of something they haven’t seen, so they should first see the movie. When they see the movie, they’ll see that first of all, I hope they’ll be happy that their relatives and their neighbors who still live in Cuba, at least when it comes to healthcare are being taken care of as best as possibly can be, considering that it’s a poor country. This isn’t Michael Moore saying this. All the world health organizations, all the different independent organizations have said that Cuba has a very good health care system, especially for an impoverished nation, so I don’t think that’s news really to anybody with me saying something like that. The important thing to remember here is that I didn’t go to Cuba. We left Miami to go to Guantanamo Bay. We were going to America. We’re going to American soil, on the island of Cuba. We were going there because after meeting these 9/11 rescue workers who were suffering from ailments they received as a result of working at Ground Zero, I then saw one day, watching C-Span Senator Frist going through a whole list of things of how well the Al-Qaeda detainees are being taken care of at Gitmo, in terms of the free universal healthcare and dental care and eye care and nutrition counseling that they received. House calls, colonoscopies, screening for cancer, etc. They were getting better healthcare than tens of millions of Americans. I thought it somewhat ironic that the people that are accused of plotting 9/11 are receiving better healthcare from our government than the very people who ran down to save lives on 9/11. It made absolutely no sense to me. And so, I decided to take these 9/11 rescue workers to our naval base in Guantanamo Bay. That’s what has upset the Bush administration. That’s what they’re really after because I’m going to tell my fellow Americans that the heroes of 9/11 had been neglected and ignored by our very government that says they are there for them every step of the way which is not true. All these millions of dollars that the government put into the 9/11 funds, all the checks you wrote, I wrote, everybody wrote and we see these people suffering and dying, who ran down there and risked their lives? I am ashamed of that as an American. And most Americans will be ashamed of that. That’s why we went down to Guantanamo Bay. Don’t ever question my patriotism. I am a patriotic American. The most patriotic thing you can do is to question your government, especially when they’re screwing up like they are, not providing health to our 9/11 rescue workers.
CS: I read somewhere that the Cuban doctors were given advance notice of you filming and that they might have put together a big show specifically for your movie.
Moore: Yeah, I get the question. We insisted we’ve been given the same treatment as they give their Cuban patients. So you see in the film, there are no private rooms. There’s three people to a room. There’s no curtains. It’s pretty spartan, what you would expect in a third world country. Here’s a story I’ll tell you. Reggie Cervantes, one of the 9/11 rescue workers, the woman in the film, speaks Spanish. She had the same question that you had, and she worried about the same thing. Are they just doing this because Michael Moore is here? Cameras are present. So one night, after I left with the cameras, without telling me, she snuck out of the hospital. Snuck out of her room, went downstairs, outside, came back in. pretending to be a Cuban, and she speaks Spanish, to see if the same procedures would happen. She said the same exact same happened, as when we had the cameras there. Check-in was, “Your name? Your date of birth? And what’s wrong with you?” and they’d immediately took her to a screening room and started the procedures to take care of her, without knowing that she was already supposed to be upstairs. She said the next day, “I knew then, that the treatment we were getting was the real deal, and I felt so much better, having tested it myself without the cameras around.”
CS: What’s the status of the case right now regarding your trip to Cuba?
Moore: We’ve responded to the government saying we did not break the law, that this is the work of journalism. They want us to name the names of the people that we took there, I won’t do that. We’ve taken the necessary precautions to protect the negative of the film, so that it can’t be confiscated. The next move is theirs.
CS: How has technology helped in making your films and how has it changed in the last few years?
Moore: If the internet didn’t exist, I don’t know how we would’ve made this film, because I was able to ask the public to send me their health care horror stories via the internet. Before the internet, how would somebody living in Boise be able to get a hold of me? I guess I could try to write a fan letter and send it to the Weinsteins and it may or may not get to me, right? But how would I be able to communicate? Who would put me on national television, saying send me your health care horror stories, when the evening news is funded by one pharmaceutical ad after another every single night. Who’s going to let me do that? So I had access to the people through the internet and the internet allowed people to communicate directly and personally with me about their stories. That is incredible. What an incredible invention because it brings the small “D”, democracy, into shape and into form. Where “we the people” can really do something. We can create a ruckus. We can fight back. We can ask questions. We can organize. We cut out the middleman. Before if you didn’t like something you saw in the media, you can send a letter to the editor. Maybe they’d publish it. You don’t have to worry about that anymore. You don’t have to worry about them publishing you at all. You publish yourself. This is a good thing for a free and open society. It was very helpful in the film. The other thing is that the film was shot in high definition digital video, which at 24 frames per second, unlike the old video which was 30 frames per second and looked like video, this movie looks like a movie. It looks like it was shot on film. That’s what high definition allows you to do. It allows you to use a portable and fairly inexpensive form to shoot your movie on and yet have it look like a movie, film.
CS: In the movie, you praised the Clinton health care initiative, which involved government-regulated HMOs. Do you think that would be a possible solution?
Moore: No, there should be no role for them. Private health insurance should be eliminated. I praised Hilary Clinton in the film for her initial efforts, because she was the one that stuck her neck out. Her plan wasn’t the best plan but at least she was brave enough to say something should happen. The HMOs now are going to wish that they supported Hilary’s plan, because she would’ve allowed them to continue. What I and the nurses unions and millions of Americans are going to advocate for is their permanent removal from our healthcare system. I guess that’s it. Thank you so much.
After the press conference was over, we asked Mr. Moore why he never ran for office and whether he thought he might make a greater change from within to which he replied:
“I think both are legitimate methods. You know, I was elected when I was 18 to the local school board.”
SiCKO is now playing in a single theatre in New York City but will expand to 441 theaters on Friday, June 29.