George Pimentel/WireImage
Nicole Sperling
September 11, 2015 AT 08:02 PM EDT

Jake Gyllenhaal may have been the biggest star at the opening festivities of the 40th annual Toronto International Film Festival, there to promote his film Demolition (which won’t open until April), but in reality, the night belonged to Michael Moore. The polarizing documentarian displayed his very secretive project Where to Invade Next, and brought down the packed Princess of Wales theater in Toronto with a standing ovation.

The film, which many, including us, originally believed was about America’s continuous cycle of war around the world, is really an optimistic look at policies other countries have gotten right and how America could adopt them in the future. Moore ventured to Italy to highlight the amount of paid leave each Italian citizen receives as part of its country’s laws; to Finland to illustrate how the country turned around its failing school system; to Norway to show off its humane incarceration policies; and to France to demonstrate the gorgeous, healthy, and inexpensive gourmet meals the country serves its children in school.

Moore called it “Mike’s Happy Movie” in a lively post-screening Q&A, a film that, in a drastic change for the director, focused on none of the problems in the U.S. but rather offered a bunch of solutions. In order to achieve that Moore didn’t shoot a frame of the film in the states. “It was more devastating to shoot elsewhere,” he said, opting for news footage of U.S. strife — police brutality, poor education, crumbling infrastructure — when necessary to illustrate some of his finer points.

Where to Invade Next is Moore’s first movie since 2009, and the director said he was prompted to return to his craft after the Occupy Wall Street movement, the Ferguson, Missouri protests following the death of Michael Brown in August of 2014, and the #BlackLivesMatter campaign illustrated the civic unrest within the U.S.

“I thought it was time to re-enlist and be part of what happens next,” he said. And after his interviews and meetings with business leaders, politicians, and workers in these various countries, he’s more optimistic about real change occurring in the United States, about most of the issues he presented: from free college education in Slovenia, to an equal rights amendment for women in Tunisia. To that latter issue, which is also highlighted in the film by showing how gender equality has influenced Iceland to greater success (even after the country’s economic crisis), Moore cited Patricia Arquette’s Oscars speech on equal pay and Meryl Streep’s recent push for congress to back the equal rights amendment as a tipping point.

There was, however, one thing Moore said will never happen in the good ole U.S. of A.

“Lamb skewers with couscous for 3rd graders,” said Moore, referring to France’s healthy school meal program. “That is never f—ing happening.” 

Where to Invade Next is a film with no distributor, a fact that’s likely to change quickly after this raucous debut.

George Pimentel/WireImage

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