Inquirer Exclusive Michael Moore, uncensored Sept 25, 2004 By Ruben V. Nepales

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L OS ANGELES, California, United States of America -- Michael Moore's cell phone rings in the middle of a press conference.

"Excuse me," says the controversial Oscar-winning filmmaker as he proceeds to answer the phone. Without skipping a beat, the well-known President Bush-basher says, "Hello? Mr. Bush. Yes, I'm in the middle of a big press conference here." He raises the cell phone toward the laughing journalists and tells them, "Say hello!"

"Hello!" the reporters yell.

"Talk to you later, bye-bye," says a grinning Moore, whose documentary, "Fahrenheit 9/11," won the plum Palme d'Or at this year's Cannes film festival. He puts down the phone. "The kid was a lawyer," he says, identifying the caller, and laughs. "God knows what that's about! Sorry."

With that statement, Moore proceeds to give us one of the most fascinating press cons we've attended in our career. His reply to Inquirer's question as to why President Bush lingered in a Florida classroom (reading "My Pet Goat" to second graders) while two planes hit is notable. The session, which began in mid-afternoon, could have gone on past midnight and the press would still have more questions for the former seminarian.

The man who was one of the first 18-year-olds elected to public office (a seat on his local school board) in the US is a born storyteller. He is very funny when he recounts, in his perfect imitation of Gollum in "The Lord of the Rings," Oscar night 2003. He jokes that a Gollum-like force tugged at him: Should he lash out at President Bush and the then just launched invasion of Iraq or not? Deciding to speak against Bush and his war, which was popular at that time, Moore was booed in his acceptance speech for winning the Oscar for best documentary feature for "Bowling for Columbine."

He may have another shot at an Oscar acceptance speech. Variety magazine reports that "Fahrenheit 9/11" was not submitted for consideration in the best documentary category, where it would have been a strong contender, but was instead fielded in the best picture and other major categories.

The film, described as a "searing examination of the Bush administration's actions in the wake of the tragic events of 9/11," has earned a record $117.5 million in the US alone and is now the highest-grossing feature-length documentary. Who would have thought a documentary would join movies like "Shrek 2" and "Spider-Man 2" as among the top-earning 10 films in the US summer of 2004?

It is ironic, though, that Moore, an institution-basher in rumpled clothes, is accompanied at the press con by two bodyguards in suits. Asked when he decided to hire the bodyguards, who are an unusual sight at a Hollywood press con, Moore smiles and asks, "What makes you think I have bodyguards? What makes you think they're mine? One guy is my chef, and the other guy is my Pilates instructor."

Finally he confesses, "The studio and their insurance company (laughs) hired an agency to do the logistics and the security and stuff. But I'm personally not worried."

You must get a lot of threats

I get hate mail like everybody does in this sort of thing. I guess the assumption you're making is that the right wing is violent, or has violent elements within it.

One of the more fascinating parts of the documentary is the one in which President Bush is told that America is under attack and that the second tower has been hit while he is in a Florida classroom of second grade kids. But then he stays in the classroom reading "My Pet Goat" for nearly seven minutes. Do you think he was simply stunned or was he planning his move?

It's a very good question, because I've thought about it a lot. You know, it wasn't just the six or seven minutes that he was sitting there in the classroom. He stayed at that school a full half hour after being told the second plane hit the towers. Their answer was, "Well, he didn't want to scare the children." (Laughs) He's just been told America is under attack. That means, as the commander-in-chief, he's a target. The last thing you want to do is surround yourself with 300 children! Get yourself away from the children. Instead, he stayed in the school.

I was looking at it again last night. I was on a show and they showed that clip. I had the feeling that perhaps they forgot he was there. (Laughs) Now, think about this. Because you've heard (Vice President) Cheney describe what was going on in the White House. Cheney was in charge. Cheney was calling the shots. Cheney, I think, came up with the idea of shooting the plane down and then told Bush.

Cheney tells the story about how he was immediately lifted up by the Secret Service and carried down to the bunker. Immediately, right? But Bush is left sitting in a classroom. I think they were so busy trying to figure out how to respond because the nation was under attack that they forgot he was sitting there! (Laughs) And he looks like a child lost in the shopping mall. "Where are my parents?" (Laughs)

There was a British general who went to the premiere of "Fahrenheit 9/11" in London. He came out of the movie and he said, "I've seen that look before, that look in his (Bush's) eyes. And I'll tell you what. If I was under attack, and a lieutenant of mine had that look on his face, he would be immediately relieved of his command. I know that look, and it's the look of someone who's paralyzed and cannot act or function, and must be removed immediately and must be relieved of his command."

They should play those seven minutes over and over again. If Americans are truly afraid, that should make them go through the roof.

Why do we see less of you onscreen in this film?

The subject matter in this film was so strong and powerful that I did not want to get in the way of it. As far as the comedy in the film is concerned, there's no way I could write funnier lines than George W. Bush, so I felt, better that I play the straight man and let him have the laughs. I just haven't felt like going in front of the camera.

One of the reasons your movie has been so successful is that your voice is one of the few expressing loud dissent.

Well, I think a lot of people are afraid to speak out because they see what happens to people like me. Nobody wants to be booed on the stage of the Kodak Theater. It was the fifth day of the war, and I'm on that stage, and it's an awfully risky thing to do. I had to decide at that moment. That was my Oscar moment. I've earned that. I was thinking, this will never happen again in my lifetime. This is a moment of joy. And I get to celebrate me.

And walking up those steps, they're all standing, and I'm like, I've got two voices in my head essentially. One's going (in his Gollum voice), "Just blow them a kiss and walk off the stage." And the other one is going, "No! You have a job to do. (Laughs) You have a job to do! You must say something." "No!!! Oscar, Precious! (laughs) Precious! Oscar! You want Oscar! (laughs) No! Oscar, evil! Bad." (Laughs)

That all took place in about five seconds in my head.

I'll tell you a story. A soldier stopped me on the street a few weeks ago. He said, "I was out on a ship off Iraq on the night of the Oscars. They brought us the Oscars on the ship. We all booed you when you said that. I was so angry at you that you said what you said. I've just come back. I've been there for a year. I want to apologize to you for being angry at you that night."

I said, "You don't apologize to me. We apologize to you. The American people need to apologize to you for putting you in harm's way when it wasn't for the self-defense of the country, when in fact it was to line the pockets of those who are the benefactors of the Bush family. We owe you an apology. What was your crime? That you believed your President, your Commander-In-Chief? You believed him. There's nothing wrong with that. You should be able to believe your President. You should be able to believe what comes out of his mouth. If we don't have that, what are we left with?"

At some point, you have to decide if you're going to be a person of courage and conscience, and no matter what the risks are, you have to stand up. I'm not upset at those people who booed me. I don't think they'd boo me today. I don't know if I'll ever be let back in the theater but (laughs) maybe, yeah.

When you finished the movie, what kind of hope or expectations did you have? And were there any surprises in the movie's journey?

I've been most surprised by the response from the troops and their families. I have over 1,500 letters now from soldiers in Iraq. I'm going to put them out in a book before the election because I want the American public to read these letters. They're so powerful. The letters aren't about the film so much as, "Mike, I want to tell you what's going on here. I want to tell you what we're being run through." The stuff that you're just not going to hear on the evening news. And why should you? G.E. already has $600 million dollars in contracts in Iraq. They own NBC. Disney, we already know where they're at. They own ABC.

My hope for the film is that it would have some effect on people. Not just for this election, because these issues are going to be with us next year. On the issues in the film about terrorism, the war on terror, do we give up our civil liberties to fight the war on terror? The Iraq situation. We're going to have all these with us a year from now, regardless of who is in the White House.

I want people to think about the larger issues, about how fear is used to manipulate you, the people.

Bush could win as best actor in a comedy.

I would sit at Bush's table (laughs) if you nominated him.

Do you see yourself as a filmmaker, journalist or a political activist?

I see myself as a filmmaker. I do not see myself as an activist. I think the word activist, when you live in a democracy, is a redundant term. All citizens in a democracy are, by the very fact they live in a democracy, activists. Because you have to be, otherwise it's not a democracy. Democracy is not a spectator sport. It's a participatory event. It only works when everyone is active. So I do my part as a citizen to be active.

I'm a filmmaker and a writer. And I always start my films thinking first about the filmmaking, about the art of it, and not about the politics. Political filmmakers who put the politics first oftentimes end up making pretty lousy movies and doing the cause a disservice, because it's boring or it's just the same. You're not going there to learn anything.

First and foremost, I want to reach people as a filmmaker. If I just wanted to make a political statement, I'd run for office. If I wanted to preach to people, I'd go be a preacher. I've chosen to be a filmmaker. So first and foremost, I want to make the best film you've seen this year. That is my first goal. I want this to be the best film-going experience for you, the audience, this year.

It doesn't diminish the politics. It helps the politics if you're concerned about the art first.

For some reason, Michael Moore becomes the new president of the US. What would be the first three things that you would do?

I would release Puerto Rico. (Laughs). I would bring the troops home from Iraq as soon as possible, but make sure that America pays for the mess that we've created.

Number two, I would immediately start canceling unnecessary Pentagon programs and use that money to guarantee that every American has health care.

The third thing I would do would be free HBO for everyone. (Laughs) I just think that HBO is so good, with shows like "The Sopranos" and "Six Feet Under." If Americans could see what good TV looks like, and not have to pay for it, it would be a nice little perk.

Can you tell us about the montage of footages of the war, some of which have not been shown before?

I became increasingly angry at the job that the television media was doing in this country. I became committed to showing what was not being aired, and the only way to show it was through the use of clips. I started getting tapes from some people at the networks who were upset themselves. On the side, they were giving me tapes, unbeknownst to their bosses. And then freelancers in Iraq started sending me stuff because they went over there thinking they'd get their stuff on TV. TV wouldn't show it so they gave it to me.

You know the scene in my movie at the beginning where they're all putting on their makeup? Some asked me, "What are you doing? That's a cheap shot, Mike, trying to make fun of them. Everybody puts makeup on in TV."

I said, "That's not why it's in the movie." It's a metaphorical device where I'm saying, "Here begins our little play. And the actors are putting on their makeup." Because the actors, Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Ashcroft, Condoleezza-they're now about to repeat their lines of fiction. I show them as actors putting on their makeup and taking it off at the end of the film. This non-fiction film is about the fiction that we live through during this period.

Have you seen the right and the Republicans attacking me for a statement I made about Americans being amongst the dumbest people on the planet? They've been going after me on this.

I did a one-man show in London and I did a whole routine about how stupid we are. That is like verboten here, right? You cannot (laughs) leave this country and say something bad about America on another shore. But what I was referring to was a National Geographic survey in which they asked geography questions to 18- to 25-year-old Americans. Eighty-five percent of these young adult Americans could not find Iraq on the map. Sixty percent could not find Britain on the map. Tony Blair spends all that time kissing our ass, we don't even know where the hell he is! (Laughs)

But here's the best one. Eleven percent of the American public, 18 to 25 years old, could not find the US on the globe. I'm not making this up. National Geographic, Fall of 2002, did this poll. Because we live in a system of enforced ignorance in this country. It's enforced in school, and then when you're out of school, through the media. The whole thrust is to keep Americans stupid about the world in which we live. If they can get away with that, they can get away with telling us anything.

Look at your newscasts in your countries. How does the evening news begin? I've been to a few of your countries. It doesn't begin with, "Tonight! A drive-by shooting! Three killed in the Southland! We go straight to Greg, tell us, Greg! How's the scene?"

(Laughs) You watch every night in LA, right? "We've got helicopters on the freeway! Let's go there right now! Yes, there's a car traveling fast on the freeway!" You turn on the news in Paris, you turn on the news in London, you turn on the news in Nairobi and you'll hear, "Tonight, economic ministers met in Brussels to discuss the..."

Right? (Laughs) Brussels! The word Brussels is used. Where's Brussels? (Laughs) It's painful to live in a system of enforced ignorance. But you like us as people. There's something very charming about us and our 'simpleness.'

(Laughs) Right? Because we're right out there. It's on our sleeve. We're kind of, "Hey, hey, ha!" (Laughs) There's a lack of pretension about us.

But the good news is that once we do learn the truth, once the facts are uncovered, we come around. And that's what's happened to George W. Bush. From a 90 percent approval rating to 44 percent. From 80 percent supporting the war, now to 54 percent being opposed to it, in a short period of time, because the people were given the truth.

Americans will respond from a good place at their core. At their core, they don't like being lied to. But if you believed him? And you were willing to send your kids over there? Then you discover that he lied? And some of your children are dead as a result of that lie? Do you understand the sense of betrayal average middle Americans feel toward this man?

I'm not a Democrat. I'm not a member of the Democratic Party. I've never met John Kerry.

I'm going to be donating a good chunk of my money from this film to make sure that every vote gets counted. I will lead non-violent, civil disobedience and I will encourage everyone into the streets if they try to steal another election. We will exercise our democratic rights to stop it from happening. They will never get away with this again.

Does any of this take its toll on you personally?

I have not been able to sleep in three months, really, since just before Cannes. Everything has been so exhilarating. Every day is a new battle. Against the forces that want to try and stop the film or stop people from seeing the movie. It's been hard physically to do that, just to keep that up. It's very hard on that level.

Are you still doing a film about the medical insurance system in the US?

Yes, I am. I am going to do a film at some point. I don't know if it'll be the next film, but it may be. It will be on the health care system in the US, or lack of health care system-the insurance companies, the big hospitals, and the pharmaceutical companies.

I don't understand why one of the richest countries on earth allows 44 million of its people to not be able to get help when they get sick. It's a human right.

I have a very good concept for a documentary that will be very funny and damning, and it'll be 90 minutes of punishment for these corporations and politicians who have put us in this situation.

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