Pledging to get his October surprise documentary Michael Moore In TrumpLand in “front of millions of people” over the next three weeks via online distribution, theatrical engagements and even house parties sponsored by MoveOn.org, Michael Moore premiered his film in New York tonight just 12 hours, give or take, after locking in final edits.
Describing TrumpLand as “a movie I knew the Hillary Clinton campaign would never endorse,” the former Bernie Sanders die-hard has directed a film aimed not so much at the undecideds but the unenthusiastics — the voters who hate Trump and don’t like Clinton all that much more.
“This is not a movie for cynics,” Moore told the packed house at New York City’s IFC Center cinema, “and this is not an election for cynics.” His audience was welcoming, to say the least, already pumped by a carnival atmosphere outside the theater that included an automated, glowing-eyed, tiny-handed Trump-as-fortune-teller machine dispensing predictions and promises (Scott Baio for Supreme Court “because I want to see Charles in Charge!”)
The sneak preview — Moore announced the free screening on Twitter yesterday — gave audiences (including the press) a first look at what is essentially a concert film. Taped at a Wilmington, Ohio theater October 7 — and so missing any mention of Trump’s Access Hollywood scandal and its fallout — TrumpLand is essentially Moore delivering an impassioned and often very funny pro-Hillary one-man-show before a politically mixed audience. Moore and his team had recruited local Ohioans of all leanings (he estimates about half the crowd was for Clinton, with the other half divided between supporters of Trump, Sanders and third parties).
The stepping-into-enemy-territory aspect is a key element of the film: TrumpLand depicts moments when Moore can make absolutely no headway with his audience. Early in his show, Moore, in an attempt to find common ground, proposes that at least they can all agree that everyone wants better schools for their children. His suggestion is met by silence.
By the end of the film, Moore seems to have clearly won over the audience — at least in terms of his performance, as the Ohioans at least laugh at his jokes and murmur recognition. (He told the New York preview crowd that he doubted he’d turned any Trump supporters, but hoped he’d at least “depressed” their enthusiasm while amping up that of the fence-sitters and mild Clinton supporters).
If parts of the film are heavy-handed — TrumpLand includes more than a few shots of teary-eyed audience members moved by Moore’s mournful, angry shouts on behalf of Americans who have died due to a lack of health insurance — Moore knows full well how to work his shlumpy, working-class-from-Flint persona. Forever fidgeting with the ball cap (San Francisco 49ers, naturally) that covers the business half of his unrepentant mullet, Moore approaches his scoffers by giving voice to their views before fully venting his.
In one of the more remarkable segments, he lays out Trump’s appeal more effectively than O’Reilly and Hannity combined. Trump’s threats against the auto industry abandonment of the American workforce, his anti-corporate, anti-media, anti-Wall Street rants — all tap into a the same seething hatreds of a decimated middle-class.
“He’s a human Molotov cocktail,” Moore says of Trump, history’s “biggest f*ck you ever recorded.”
Then he pivots. Voting to “blow the whole goddamn” thing up, he says, “will feel good, for a day.” He likens the situation to Brexit, and warns that, like regretful British voters, Americans for Trump will soon lament their decisions.
But TrumpLand, despite its title, is less about Donald than Hillary, as Moore sets out to explain and dismantle the country’s rampant and entrenched dislike of the former First Lady. He asks his audience to shout out the things they hate about her, and they oblige: She’s not trustworthy, she flip-flops, the Clinton Foundation, Benghazi, Iraq. Moore tackles the complaints one by one — I won’t spoil his rejoinders here, but his comical swatting away of the Vince Foster murder rumors are as funny as they are tasteless.
TrumpLand eventually attempts to make its strongest case not so much against Trump as for Clinton, and to rile up enthusiasm for her. He even includes an actual recorded snippet of her Wellesley College graduation speech, and details the sacrifices she made for Bill, the scorn she endured for attempting health care reform, and the sexism she’s battled since the Clintons’ days in the Arkansas governor’s mansion.
And Moore just might succeed at that — as anyone who has seen his earlier docus knows, he can be persuasive as hell — but his biggest hurdle, with or without online options and viewing parties, will be getting the skeptics, the unpassionate and the disgusted-with-it-all to watch. Once they do, they might be surprised.
TrumpLand will begin exclusive one-week runs in New York at the IFC Center and in Los Angeles at the Laemmle Town Center 5 in Encino on October 19. Moore said he expects to announce online options in the next day or two, as well as additional theatrical runs. The 73-minute film was written, produced and directed by Moore (the theater direction is by Dana Calderwood). A Dog Eat Dog Production, TrumpLand is presented by Dog Eat Dog Films and IMG Films, produced by Carl Deal and edited by Doug Abel.