Michael Moore seems to have two places on the planet that fuel his imagination—Flint, Michigan, and Canada.
Watch the trailer for Capitalism: A Love Story.
The Oscar-winning filmmaker and iconic left-winger was born in Flint, and many of his films, including his latest, Capitalism: A Love Story, find their heart there. His legendary first feature documentary, Roger and Me, was about the human cost of General Motors “downsizing” in Flint. In his latest movie, Moore returns to Flint for several scenes, including a visit to a closed factory with his father and a conversation with a local priest about the evils of capitalism.
His other geopolitical touchstone is Canada. In Sicko, Moore practically sanctifies Canada’s health-care system, and in Bowling for Columbine (which was produced with the help of Halifax’s Salter Street Films, as was his TV series The Awful Truth), he shows that Canadians may love guns as much as Americans but aren’t as keen on shooting people with them.
Moore’s relationship to Canada has historic roots, too. Sitting in a hotel room just after Capitalism’s North American premiere at the 2009 Toronto International Film Festival, Moore tells the Georgia Straight that his grandfather was Canadian.
Dressed in jeans, T-shirt, ball cap, and sneakers, Moore is so unabashedly laudatory about our country that he couldn’t possibly be Canadian. “I wish more Americans would look north and see that there are some things we can learn from you, that we might be better off if we were more Canadian-like in some ways. Not the boring, dull stuff. But there’s something about your core, your values, the way you’re wired. You believe that you’re your brother’s keeper, that you have a responsibility, that you exist as part of a whole. If one of you gets sick, it means that if that’s not taken care of, then we all sort of suffer a bit. I think that’s pretty profound.”
Asked where that schism between the two countries comes from, Moore replies: “I can’t put my finger on it other than to say Kiefer Sutherland’s grandfather.”
He then makes it clear that he knows Kiefer’s grandpa—aka Medicare’s dad and former federal NDP leader Tommy Douglas—was voted “the greatest Canadian” by CBC viewers in 2004, “over your first prime minister, [John A.] Macdonald, over a whole host of Canadians you can put on that list: Alex Trebek, the rock group April Wine”.
Moore seems to have his own candidate for the position of greatest living Canadian: author and activist Naomi Klein. He says he finds Klein an inspiration, although he hasn’t yet seen her film The Take, which, like Moore’s latest, deals with factory workers who refuse to leave their jobs after the owners close the business. “I have not seen that movie, sadly. But I’ve been meaning to see it. I just think there are good people like her who are saying and doing good things, doing good work, and the more the better.”
These days, Moore also feels uplifted by America. “I’ve been really inspired since November 4. That really lifted my spirits. I went through eight years of hell. I went through it personally, and the country went through it, and the world went through it. So I remain hopeful, with [Barack] Obama in the White House—in spite of how difficult it’s become to be hopeful.
“I’m inspired by a lot of things. I met a bunch of nickel miners from Sudbury last night who were on strike because the company, even though it’s making profits in the billions, is trying to cut back on their pension. And they’re just not going to take it. You know? Going out on strike during this economic time—it’s a very brave thing to do. So I’m continually inspired by a lot of things, a lot of people.”
Moore is hoping Capitalism, which opens in Vancouver on Friday (October 2), will do some inspiring too. “I hope that the average American will quit thinking that they’re going to achieve the ”˜American dream’, that they too will be rich someday. That’s just not going to happen. I would hope that people get involved—become active, join an organization, run for office themselves, any of a number of things. At the very least, quit participating in the system. Don’t buy shares of stock. Put your money in a credit union. Only use credit cards where you have to pay at the end of the month. Don’t put your pension in the stock market, for Christ’s sake. Things like that.”
Asked how he keeps his sense of humour, Moore replies, “I have to. That’s the only way you deal with the despair. When you grow up in an Irish-American household, humour is very important. Because Irish, you know, we look at the world in a pretty dark way.”
Moore’s heritage aside, his answer sounds very Canadian.