Michael Moore invaded the New York Film Festival on Friday to screen his new documentary, Where to Invade Next, for an American audience for the first time. The film follows the filmmaker globetrotting to various countries to hijack political and cultural practices — like workers’ paid vacations, free college tuition, and true gender equity — that used to be associated with the American Dream.
“Up in Toronto [where it premiered], I read … that the difference of this film from the other films [I’ve made] is I’m not so angry,” Moore said at a post-screening Q&A session at the Walter Reade Theatre. “I think I [just] came up with a more subversive way to deal with that anger about the condition of this country.”
Moore admits that he cherry-picked the best things from each country, or as he calls it in the film, he went to pick the flowers, not the weeds. And watching the documentary can be a frustrating experience for an American, as the ideals we’ve been taught to espouse are seemingly put to work effectively in places like Iceland and Portugal, while Moore splices in news footage of America’s most notorious and shameful recent scandals, like police brutality and bank scandals. “I am an optimist; I’m not a cynic,” he insisted. “I don’t think it’s all f–ked.”
Moore was asked what positive things the U.S. does well, and he struggled to give a serious answer, mustering only rock ‘n’ roll and breakfast cereal. But he was clear to emphasize that Where to Invade Next was not about glorifying foreign and mostly socialist European countries. “I love these countries I went to but I wouldn’t want to live there. I like living here,” he said. “My film is about us, not [the other countries]. I just decided to tell a story about America without shooting a single frame of the movie in the United States.”
Though the focus of the discussion was the new film, Thursday’s school shooting in Oregon clearly weighed heavily on Moore. “It’s very important [to me] that something happen [between my film and its audience],” he said, explaining his hopes for his films to make an impact that causes real change. “A day like yesterday … we’re like, ‘What was the point of making [Bowling for Columbine]? Here we are 13 years later… But we know that’s the rabbit hole not to go down. Again, as I said at the end of the film, we know that things can change and will change. I said after Newtown, and I didn’t say this glibly, it’s upsetting to think about, but if they actually showed the crime scene photos of 20 first graders with their heads blown off, how long would the NRA stay in power?
“Of course, I don’t want them to do that; it’s an awful thing for the parents to hear of something like that,” he continued. “But a month ago, a 3-year-old washes ashore there on the beach, a refugee. That photo. … It moved people. A photograph of that child, which was so so upsetting. So sometimes these images — and what we do — does matter and can effect change. And so we hope, whether it’s with Bowling for Columbine, which is sadly still relevant, or this film, that it doesn’t take awhile. Just a few people have to do something. It’s not a lot of people. No change has ever occurred with the masses doing it. It’s always a few. Twenty-five percent [of the colonists] supported the American Revolution. It’s a minority. Always a minority. Jesus had 12 guys that fished.”
It wouldn’t be a Moore event without some opining of American politics, especially during an election season. He saved his powder and took no direct shots at the Republican candidates for president, confident in the increasingly liberal demographics of the country.
“Don’t worry about [the Republicans.] They’re not going to win,” he said, assuring the audience that Democrats would win any election as long as their side shows up at the polls. “Seventy-nine percent of the United States are either women, people of color, or people between the ages of 18 and 30, young people. That’s the bloc you have to win to get elected. … Donald Trump has [laughs] none of those blocs.”