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Michael Moore
Michael Moore
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Filmmaker Michael Moore on Bernie Sanders, the state of journalism, and liberal slackers

A conversation with the controversial documentarian.

After a six-year hiatus, Michael Moore — the gleefully polemical documentarian from Flint, Michigan — is back on the silver screen with Where to Invade Next, a jovial European excursion that propels Moore into various countries with ingenious ideas for managing a variety of societal constructs, from prison and education systems to parenting.

The grand idea? Moore will travel to these foreign lands in hopes of stealing (or borrowing) the concepts that make them great. In Norway it’s the prison system, which fosters creativity and personal growth by respecting its inhabitants; as a result, the recidivism rate is in the low 20th percentile. In France, children consume healthy and gourmet school lunches that are inexplicably produced for less money than in the United States.

Operating as a sort of lighthearted travelogue across seven different countries, the film briskly continues like this for two hours. Moore is our avatar, the naive traveler in Europe who inevitably discovers that a better life may exist away from America.

And it’s America that Moore appears to be a little less critical of in Where to Invade Next. In many ways, optimism has replaced the unruly skepticism for Washington's innumerable misdeeds that has long been present in his work. What’s hard to tell is whether this change in temperament signifies wisdom or simply a new outlook brought on by time.

Regardless, the filmmaker appears genuinely content — both in the movie and in conversation — especially when discussing his own success. This was clear when we sat down for an interview to discuss the new film (which is currently in theaters), when Moore also spoke candidly about Bernie Sanders’s presidential run, being attacked in the press by Republicans, and why liberals are slackers.

Sam Fragoso

It's strange to think about now, but the first time most people probably saw Bernie Sanders was in your 2009 movie Capitalism: A Love Story.

Michael Moore

It was probably the first movie he was in. Perhaps the only movie.

Sam Fragoso

When you were talking to Sanders for that documentary, was there any part of you that thought, "This man could be our next president?"

Michael Moore

Well, I think those of us who've known for him for a long time have always put that out there. Wouldn't that be cool if he won? But that's as far as it ever went. I remember flying up to Burlington [Vermont, Sanders's home state] in 1990, the second time he ran for Congress. And he has asked me — right after Roger & Me was released — to do a rally in support of his run.

Sam Fragoso

Are you surprised that he is doing as well as he is?

Michael Moore

I'm not surprised at all, because I feel like I have my finger on the pulse of this country. If you're just out there, you realize you can't throw millions of people out of work over these last two decades and evict people from their homes. The No. 1 cause of bankruptcy is medical bills. The list goes on. The people have been battered in a pretty brutal manner. So that someone like Bernie would rise up is not surprising at all.

Sam Fragoso

Do you think if Bernie — a man of the people — is not elected, the country will be inching closer and closer to a revolt?

Michael Moore

Well ... I don't think [that will happen], because he'll be elected. It's not a feeling. I look at the poll numbers. He beats every Republican when they go head to head. Hillary loses to one of them, ties another, and beats another by 5 points. She beats Trump by 5 points. Bernie beats Trump by 10 points. I'm optimistic that the person who is most popular will win the contest.

Sam Fragoso

Technically, yes. But for many people, it's hard to not be fearful of Washington's machinations.

Michael Moore

I'm not so worried about that. I'm more afraid that my side of the political fence is the slacker end of the fence. Getting people out to vote on Election Day is the big issue.

Sam Fragoso

You think liberals are slackers?

Michael Moore

I think liberals, Democrats, most of my friends, myself, yes. I think we have the slacker gene in us.

Sam Fragoso

And where does the gene come from?

Michael Moore

[laughs] I don't know. It's like in The Walking Dead, you know? The guy at the CDC tells them at the end of season one, "We all have it." On the other side of the political fence, the Republicans will be up at 6 in the morning voting on an election day. The only time [Democrats] see 6 in the morning is if we've been up partying all night. The other side is committed, disciplined, organized, lots of money. Democrats are stumbling into Starbucks at 10 in the morning.

Sam Fragoso

Do you think it's possible to change that?

Michael Moore

I don't know if it can be changed. Just like with any kind of disorder, medicine has been created for a lot of them. In our case, the medicine is going to have to be: You get up that day and go vote. And you gotta bring 10 people with you.

Sam Fragoso

Since the beginning of your career, you've been attacking big institutions from the position of the little man. However, your career has greatly ascended. You're more Goliath than David now.

Michael Moore

Isn't that incredible? Goliath implies you have power. Yes, I've been successful and have a very large fan base, but I don't have the kind of political power or the power in Hollywood where I actually can make something happen with the snap of my fingers.

Sam Fragoso

Sure, but you're not where you were when you made Roger & Me.

Michael Moore

I know, isn't that great? It's like, "Here I am." I have a high school education. When I made Roger & Me I was collecting $98 a week in unemployment, and now I have an apartment in Michigan and an apartment on the Upper West Side of New York. I can't believe how lucky I am.

Sam Fragoso

Well, I'm happy for you.

Michael Moore

I'm happy. And my friends are happy for me. They never knew if I would ever amount to anything. Now I could just make whatever movie I want.

Sam Fragoso

I can't tell if you're being a little sarcastic with me.

Michael Moore

It sounds sarcastic, but I really feel that way. I mean, c'mon! If you were me, wouldn't you feel that way?

Sam Fragoso

Do you ever regret not finishing school?

Michael Moore

I regret it mainly because there are great books that I know I would've read if I were forced to read them in a class. I wish I spoke languages other than English.

Sam Fragoso

Of all the ideas presented in Where to Invade Next, which one were you most excited by?

Michael Moore

The idea of no homework. I love that idea. Finland, they've got it made. When I think back to when I was in high school, if I didn't have to do homework, I know exactly how I would've used that time: doing more of the things I enjoyed doing. I would've spent more time on my underground newspaper that I put together. I would've finished a play that I was writing. I would've done a lot of things, probably, and that was back in a time when there wasn't much homework — especially compared to now. No one in my day was up till midnight doing schoolwork.

Sam Fragoso

What happened to your play?

Michael Moore

Exactly! What did happen to it? I actually finished it the year after high school, and I put on a production of it. It upset the community quite a bit. In fact, I was on the board of education — I had been elected when I was 18 — and they started a recall campaign that removed me from the school board because of this play.

Sam Fragoso

What was the play about?

Michael Moore

It was called The Tunnel, and you gotta remember this was 1973. I didn't know at the time what the word avant-garde meant, but I would say it would fall into that category. [It involves a play within a play, and] in the final scene, the actor playing Jesus is up on a huge cross on the stage. And the cross is wrapped in aluminum foil, and Jesus pulls the nails off his hands and decides he doesn't want to be crucified, and comes down off the cross.

Then a bunch of Republicans in the audience are very upset that Jesus is not where he should be (up on the cross). He's now come off the cross and is speaking gibberish about how to treat poor people and how to take care of the world. So the audience of Republicans rush the stage and kick him and beat him, and a guy gets out a gun and shoots him. Then they drag him back up to the cross and get him back up there where they like him. That was the play.

Sam Fragoso

In a way, Michael, that's kind of you.

Michael Moore

The guy on the stage? I hope not! I'm still going. It’s the fifth day of Republicans talking about me now in the news, and it's like, geez, I haven't made a movie in six years. One day after the opening of my new movie and [Ted] Cruz and [Jeb] Bush are all talking about me. It's funny because they're trying to come up with the person that is the most opposite of what they believe in. And I'm the person that pops into their minds — which of course makes me very proud.

Sam Fragoso

I saw that Jeb Bush likened you to Donald Trump.

Michael Moore

They use my name as if it's an epitaph. To say Donald Trump is like Michael Moore is like telling the public a good thing. You want to compare Donald Trump to the devil, or Charlie Manson. If you're trying to attack Trump, don't use somebody who is beloved by tens of millions of people. That's only going to draw more people to Trump. And in fact, the day after they said that, he went up 3 points in the polls.

Sam Fragoso

Did you think this was how your life would pan out?

Michael Moore

Yeah, sort of, in a way. When I was a little kid — 5, 6, 7 years old — I had my own TV show. You get a big cardboard box and you cut out one end of it. That would be the TV screen, and I'd bring people inside the box to interview them. I had my own theme song. I remember at 6 years old my cousin made me memorize Kennedy's inaugural address. Somewhere between 6 and 9 I thought I'd be president someday.

Sam Fragoso

So being in front of the camera was always part of the plan?

Michael Moore

I just think I was enamored with the idea of interviewing people. I'd start with my sisters. They were always my guinea pigs. I was a curious kid and had a lot of questions.

Sam Fragoso

Have you ever found it difficult to stay curious?

Michael Moore

Oh, no. It's not something I work at. I'm just naturally that way. Most of us are, don't you think? When you go through life, a lot of it gets squelched, but hopefully not.

Sam Fragoso

What would you consider the most salient issue plaguing this country?

Michael Moore

I would say the state of journalism. I picked up a copy of Time, and I don't think there were more than 20 pages in the magazine. It's funny how thin it was.

Sam Fragoso

It's a sad reality.

Michael Moore

What happened?

Sam Fragoso

People don't enjoy paying for journalism, especially when most of it can be consumed for free. Do you ever feel that resistance with your movies?

Michael Moore

No, not really. I don't like to pay my mortgage. I don't like to pay the car payment. I think it's a normal thing that you don't want to pay for anything. If you want to go see my movie this week, you have to pay $10 to $12 to go do that. And I believe I make the kind of movies that you're not going to get on the internet. So people will pay for it.

Sam Fragoso

Is there a part of you that wants to be a journalist?

Michael Moore

Of course, but I don't know what I'm going to do when I grow up.

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