Calling filmmaker Michael Moore “a valuable thorn in the side of American complacency,” interviewer Annette Insdorf introduced the triple-threat writer-producer-director for a conversation at the Producers Guild of America’s Produced By: NY on Saturday afternoon. Moore and Insdorf stepped in at the last minute, replacing announced guest Tina Fey, unavailable after the death of her father earlier this week. Moore’s latest film, Where To Invade Next, was shown at the just-ended New York Film Festival.
In a freewheeling Q&A with Insdorf, Moore talked about his career, including a first encounter with Roger Ebert at the Telluride Film Festival, where Roger And Me was having its debut on the same night as the fest’s actual opener. He sauntered off after Ebert turned down his invite to the film, only to see him approaching as the lights went down. “I’m only here because there was a crazy look in your eyes,” Moore recalled Ebert saying.
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After another encounter — with Nike’s Phil Knight, who admitted he’d never been in the company’s Indonesian factories — the company raised the minimum age for employees to 18, Moore said, which is the kind of impact he was aiming for. Now that he has turned 60, he added, he wants a bigger kind of impact.
“I’m in a different spot now,” he conceded. “That cliché, Life is short, is no longer a cliché.” Seeing the election of an African American president and the legalization of gay marriage has turned him, he said, into “a weird optimist, in a way,” which informed the latest film, which is about countries that have taken American ideas and done them better.
Pressed by Insdorf about the role of fact in his films, Moore said, “If I say a fact is a fact in a film, it’s a fact you can take to the bank. The opinions are mine, and they may or may not be fact.” He added, proudly, that he had hired fact checkers from the New Yorker magazine to work on his films.
“I tell students that sound is more important than pictures,” he said, to the surprise of many. The audience will forgive you if an image is a little blurry but not if they can’t hear or understand what’s going on, he explained. “Sound carries the story.”
Moore also made a strong distinction about delivery venues. “If you are watching Lawrence Of Arabia on an iPhone, that is not Lawrence Of Arabia. It’s not a movie if it’s on a TV or an iPhone.” I thought: Of course not. It’s a phonie.
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