Michael Moore largely sat out the last two presidential elections. Do not take that fact to mean he's run out of opinions, though.
After creating the incendiary documentary Fahrenheit 9/11 in 2004, which used humor and pathos to dissect the absurdity of the War On Terror, the outspoken filmmaker became a lot less, well, spoken. He followed up Fahrenheit with Sicko and Capitalism: A Love Story, but mostly laid low during much of Bush’s second term and the Obama administration. Now he’s back with his first election-cycle release in 12 years. But there's a very good reason why he's not focusing directly on the election itself.
"You can't satirize something that is self-satirizing. There's no way," Moore says. "The kind of documentaries I make, in terms of using humor, you can't top reality with this. We’re in this era where politics is a parody of itself and it would be foolish to try and improve on it."
Although some comedians have been making a valiant effort to wring laughs out of the Orwellian über-opera the 2016 election has become, for others the humor has curdled into hushed awe. The Republican frontrunner who just won three out of four early caucuses seemingly advocated the shooting of Muslims with bullets dipped in pig's blood. Democratic voters have been engaged in fractious infighting. It's a mess.
Rather than focusing on what's wrong with America right now, though, Moore's latest, Where To Invade Next, spotlights what's right with other countries around the world.
Moore had been thinking about making a film like Where To Invade Next since he was a teenager freewheeling around Europe with a Eurorail pass and a youth hostel card. Everywhere he went, he noticed more differences between the way people lived at home and abroad. It wasn't that he wanted to abandon America, but rather he wished to export some ideas from other countries back to America. In Where To Invade Next, Moore travels around the world again, this time with a camera crew, to explore other countries' approaches to education, gender equality, vacation time, and much more.
With only a general idea of where they'd be going, Moore and his crew spent 35 days on a world tour. They'd mapped out in advance which issues to investigate in which location, but the specifics were decided on the fly. The crew stopped in Normandy, for instance, and threw a dart at a map to choose a town with which to compare school lunches to those back home. (Spoiler alert: Those French kids look spoiled compared with kids in Philadelphia.)
Instead of talking at length about Where To Invade Next, which is now in theaters, when Co.Create spoke with Moore recently, we asked for his thoughts on the 2016 presidential race. Specifically, we asked what kind of documentary he might make about some of the candidates clamoring to win it. What he had to say on the topic proves Moore hasn't grown one iota in the direction of complacency during Obama's presidency.
"What could you show in a documentary on this election—when they couldn't walk out onto the stage because they didn’t know who should go next? I was hoping Saturday Night Live wouldn't do a skit on that, because there is no way to make it funnier. If you wrote this election as fiction it would just be like, ‘Oh, that's too over the top,’" Moore says.
"If I were making a documentary on this election, I'd try to do something of more substance. It would be so edgy you'd almost want to turn away from the screen," Moore continues. "Like, I'd ask Hillary if we could go door-to-door to the parents who lost a son or daughter in the Iraq War and if she would apologize to them for voting to make that happen. I'd like to ask Hillary how she sleeps at night knowing her vote led to this catastrophe that cost thousands of Americans lives but tens, maybe hundreds of thousands of lives of people in Iraq. She probably wouldn't do it."
"With a Ted Cruz documentary, it's a Cuban from Canada running for the American presidency. So it might be the funniest part to go and find the Cruz family in Canada and dig into his Canadian roots," Moore says. "Obviously, it makes no sense that he is from Canada, considering what he stands for is like the opposite of where most Canadians are."
"With Bernie Sanders, it's a different story," Moore says. "My movie essentially shows what Bernie Sanders is trying to say. People tell him his ideas aren't practical; well, my movie shows countries that are doing the very things he is asking for and they've been doing them for decades. College with no student debt, free health care, maternity leave, all that stuff. It exists in every civilized country and [Where To Invade Next] shows that."