Michael Moore’s latest documentary, Fahrenheit 11/9 — a semi-sequel to his 2004 hit, Fahrenheit 9/11 — is engineered to get viewers of all political persuasions up in arms about the current state of the American democratic experiment as represented by President Trump. But the Oscar-winning filmmaker himself was in high spirits at the movie’s Toronto International Film Festival premiere last night.
That’s probably due to the standing ovation he received — along with cries of “Michael Moore for president!” — and the fact that he was joined by some special guests who are prominently featured in the movie. Those guests included April Cook-Hawkins, who blew the whistle on the Michigan state government for its lack of accountability in the still-ongoing Flint water crisis, and David Hogg, a survivor of the school shooting in February in Parkland, Fla. Taking the stage, the 18-year-old gun-control activist hugged Cook-Hawkins as Moore looked on beaming, and then he addressed the cheering audience directly: “I have a question for you guys: Who is ready to save America?”
— Ethan Alter (@ethanalter) September 7, 2018
Hogg had other questions as well as the postscreening discussion unfolded. Of the IRS, he asked, “Why aren’t you auditing the president of the United States?” And as a general query, he posed this head-scratcher: “We’re still at war in Afghanistan — what the hell? I’m 18 years old; that war was started 17 years ago.” That questioning attitude and the desire to right the world’s wrongs are some of the reasons that Moore considers Hogg and his fellow Parkland students to be a “generation of action,” not a “generation of hope,” as an audience member suggested. “I’m against hope,” he said, only half-jokingly. “Hope was back with Obama. What we need is a generation of action.”
The popular former POTUS receives some withering criticism in Fahrenheit 11/9. Moore targets Obama for his actions during the Flint water crisis, when he visited the devastated town while still in the Oval Office and appeared to endorse the narrative that the situation was improving rather than demanding accountability from the state’s Republican-dominated government. As several of the Flint residents interviewed in the film recount, that approach actually caused them to lose hope in a president who had made it a major feature of his campaign and administration.
Fahrenheit 11/9 posits Obama’s appearance in Flint as part of a larger pattern of the Democratic Party compromising its grassroots values in an effort to appease the corporate classes — a transformation that Moore dates back to Bill Clinton. And while his last film, 2016’s Michael Moore in TrumpLand, featured him stumping strongly for Hillary Clinton, he’s highly critical of the candidate here, ridiculing her cozy relationship with big investment firms and even the size of her bumper stickers. In contrast, Bernie Sanders’s insurgent campaign is celebrated, and the senator himself is interviewed — very briefly — during which he criticizes the way the larger Democratic Party viewed his candidacy.
Still, most of the movie’s ire and anger is directed, as expected, at Trump. Moore opens the film with the implicit suggestion that the Manhattan-based real estate developer-turned-reality TV star never wanted the job — that his candidacy was merely a ploy to get NBC to pay him the same salary that Gwen Stefani received for her hosting gig on The Voice. From there, it recounts his erratic but successful approach to campaigning, his weaponizing of social media and the news media, his use of political tactics previously employed by Adolf Hitler, and his uncomfortably lewd comments about his daughter Ivanka Trump.
Much of this material will be familiar to viewers, and Moore even remarks in the documentary, “None of this is new.” (Indeed, much of the footage in the film isn’t new; the bulk of Fahrenheit 11/9 is made up of existing news reports, interspersed with Moore attempting such crowd-pleasing stunts as performing a citizen’s arrest on Michigan’s governor — and alleged architect of the Flint water crisis — Rick Snyder.)
At the same time, that’s part of his larger point: Trump has been lying — emphasis on the word lying — in plain sight all along, and none of the people or institutions that could have stopped him along the way chose to do so. Moore includes himself among that population of enablers, by the way; the filmmaker unearths footage from Roseanne Barr’s late-’90s talk show where he shared the screen with Trump. Behind the scenes, the producers asked him to go easy on Trump lest the thin-skinned businessman walk off the set. Moore reluctantly went along with it, a choice he says he now regrets.
Since he was part of the generation that gave rise to Trump, it’s no surprise that Moore is so eager to highlight the rising “generation of action,” as represented by activists like Hogg and progressive political candidates like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who is interviewed in the film. Fahrenheit 11/9 is an explicit celebration of their accomplishments so far and a pointed reminder of how much more they still have to do in their stated mission to “save America.”
And with a pivotal election looming, they’ll have to do it soon, which is why Moore is planning an ultra-wide 1,500-theater release for Fahrenheit 11/9 on Sept. 21. In a note he released the day of the movie’s Toronto premiere, Moore wrote in part, “My hope is that you will experience the magic of cinema the way it was meant to be experienced, in a movie theater. It’s the best way to truly feel the big story I’m telling you. Any bit of anger, despair, or frustration you’ve felt over the past few years must be channeled into action this fall!”
Before the movie screened, he regaled the crowd with the message he had imparted to his crew while they were making it: “We have to act like we’re in the French Resistance now. The sense of urgency was profound.”
Fahrenheit 11/9 opens in theaters on Sept. 21.
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