Lessons for America

Michael Moore on Where To Invade Next and what other countries do better.

by Anne-Katrin Titze

Michael Moore with Anne-Katrin Titze:
Michael Moore with Anne-Katrin Titze: "It's about going to countries that have great ideas." Photo: Jason Janego

At a holiday celebration hosted by Michael Moore, the director of Where To Invade Next called his film "The no problems and all solutions movie." Michael also honoured Harry Belafonte and expressed a warm thank you to Atomic Cafe filmmaker Kevin Rafferty for guiding him through the making of his first documentary, Roger And Me. Michael Moore had emceed the Gala Tribute for Richard Peña at the 50th New York Film Festival and supported Jon Alpert's Downtown Community Television Center.

Harry Belafonte on Michael Moore:
Harry Belafonte on Michael Moore: "With tremendous reserve and dignity you stay the course and you validate my existence." Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

In his latest, Moore, the Conquerer, takes on Europe and a slice of Tunisia on a one-man mission, invading countries to bring back to the US the treasures he has found. He plays Dorothy without Toto - and most likely in sneakers - who sees what exists in the world beyond Kansas.

Iceland had the first woman president in 1980, and the only bank in the black during the recent collapse of Iceland's economy was run by women. The country did actually prosecute those responsible and the economy has recovered with more women in positions of power than ever.

At the party, Michael spoke about one of his encounters during the filming of Where To Invade Next.

Michael Moore: When the Icelandic woman in my movie says to me "How do you live with yourselves?" She said "I would not want to be your neighbour." When she first said that, I thought that she didn't want to be Mexico or Canada. "No, I wouldn't want to be your neighbor, because you Americans, you don't treat each other very well. Forget about how you treat the rest of the world. We just watch how you treat each other and we just don't understand it."

"We don't understand why you would treat your own children that way, why you'd give them the kinds of schools that you give them and turn them into a debtor's prison at the age of 22 with 100,000 dollars in student loan debt."

Michael Moore and Morgan Spurlock at Jon Alpert's DCTV
Michael Moore and Morgan Spurlock at Jon Alpert's DCTV Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

Germany just passed a rule. You know, all the universities are free in Germany. They're all free in France. All free in Scandinavia - you don't pay anything. Some schools want some book costs, but Germany just passed a rule, allowing Americans and other foreigners to go to university in Germany now for free.

And the main reason they do it - not because they're better than us, or whatever, they are Germans. They think it benefits the education of their young people to have a diverse body of students from Argentina and Mexico and China and the US and they want foreign students to come there and they think it's a good way to spend their tax dollars. If you've seen the movie, you know what I'm talking about.

Where To Invade Next - it's not a war movie. It's not about going to Afghanistan or Iran or someplace. It's about going to countries that have great ideas that we should think about trying in this country. Some of them we used to have. All the countries we went to said - "You Americans after World War II, you had the best schools in the world. The best education system, public schools. And you just gave up on it." And they've basically stolen our ideas. And if you want to see what those of us who went to public schools in the Fifties or Sixties or even Seventies [experienced], go to Europe and see what their schools are like. They look like the way we used to go to school.

Michael Moore with David Schwartz at First Time Fest on Kevin Rafferty:
Michael Moore with David Schwartz at First Time Fest on Kevin Rafferty: "He showed me how to make a movie." Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

Michael then asked if there were questions -

A school cafeteria in Normandy where children eat from real plates, drink water from glass glasses and the refrigerator stocks 80 types of cheese, has Michael Moore shake his head in disbelief in his film. Lunch in this very average small-town school is treated as a class - where children learn how to eat in a civilized manner. They serve each other food, the day of Moore's visit there seems to be a scallop appetiser [it is Normandy - so, of course] and couscous as part of the main dish, and no vending machine is anywhere in sight. The school chef and a dietitian plan the menu together.

Anne-Katrin Titze: Which one of the invasions do you think will be the most provocative? Not the school lunch in France?

In Where To Invade Next, a May Day rally in Lisbon leads to a conversation with Portuguese policemen about the fact that there are no drug arrests because drugs are not illegal. In one of the most comprehensive juxtapositions, Moore contrasts this system to the US where race and drugs, the prohibition on offenders voting, and free labour in prisons are linked in a vicious cycle.

Michael Moore: The most provocative is anything that is racially based. We have to stop the drug war and stop locking up black men. The statistic in the film that 40% of all black men in Virginia - not men in prison, all black men - are prohibited by law from voting. 40%! If it was 40% of any other group? If 40% of women in Virginia were prohibited by law from voting, would anybody tolerate that? If it was 40% of Italians, 40% of Jews, 40% of Catholics? But it's 40% of black men. Their laws are that if you've committed a crime or you have any kind of thing on your record, not just when you are in prison, you can't vote.

Celia Weston and Dana Ivey at Michael Moore's holiday party.
Celia Weston and Dana Ivey at Michael Moore's holiday party. Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

You get out of prison, you can't vote. In some of those states you can't vote for the rest of your life - in some of these states, mostly Southern states. One third of all black men in Florida cannot vote. In my film I show how it's the opposite in the European countries. They not only vote in prison, they have candidates' debates. The candidates have to come to the prisons and debate in front of the prisoners. And the prisoners vote the night before the polls open to the public. Sort of an honorific … Basically, they want to rehabilitate. They want them to be part of society. They are going to get out, they are going to be your neighbours. So they say, you vote first! I mean, it's kind of a Christian idea, isn't it?

You might have seen the bus outside that the studio has. On February 12 [2016], we're going to take that [bus] and barnstorm the country for six weeks. We're going to show this film for free to as many hundreds of groups and people as possible. This wonderful studio, this distribution company [founded by Tom Quinn, Jason Janego and Tim League], that's brand new, is putting up the money for this, so that I can have these discussions with Americans.

Next Michael Moore turned to one of his celebrated guests.

The Where To Invade Next poster on Michael Moore's door
The Where To Invade Next poster on Michael Moore's door Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

Michael Moore: Harry, did you want to say anything?

Harry Belafonte: Yes.

MM: Okay. Harry Belafonte would like to say a few words.

HB: Thank you, Michael. Thank you for the update but mostly, thank you for the film. And thank you for just being on the planet and in our community. With tremendous reserve and dignity you stay the course and you validate my existence.

MM: Listen, because of you and others like you as a child growing up and the example that you set and that what can be done with art, with music, with film and what all of us who do this, the impact that we can have - you were and are still an inspiration to me and I think to all of us here.

Where To Invade Next has been selected as one of the 15 Best Documentary Feature candidates shortlisted by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. The five films to receive nominations will be announced on January 14, 2016, along with all the other Oscar nominations.

The Oscars will be handed out on February 28.

Where To Invade Next opens in New York and LA on December 23 and nationwide on February 12, 2016.

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