It was opening night in Toronto Thursday, and if you think that is easy to cover, think again. There were no fewer than about 10 movies vying for attention on this first night of the 43rd annual Toronto Film Festival. Outlaw King, a Netflix movie starring Chris Pine, led the pack with screenings in the festival’s two most prestigious locations, Roy Thomson Hall and the Princess Of Wales Theatres. Thomas Vinterberg’s Kursk, Denys Arcand’s The Fall Of The American Empire, Paolo Sorrentino’s Loro, Neil Jordan’s Greta and Shane Black’s Predator reboot were a few of those flicks also vying for attention on opening night. But the one that stood out with a rollicking standing ovation was the latest from Michael Moore, Fahrenheit 11/9, which has been described as his Trump film, but is actually quite surprising and ultimately a sober warning about America’s future before it’s too late, a documentary that spares no prisoners and is just as critical of Democrats as it is of Republicans. World Premiering at the Ryerson, Moore’s 11/9 is his best film since his Palme d’Or winning Fahrenheit 9/11, and is every bit as pertinent and important to our lives as that film was.
Yes, this is a movie that chronicles the craziness of the 2016 election, the nuttiness of Donald Trump, and so many other political details. But it also isn’t afraid to veer into uncomfortable territory, especially for democrats who though they were going to get a pass from Moore. Uh, that would be a no. Targets in addition to Trump and the GOP are Former President Obama who is painfully taken to task for his appearance in Flint, Michigan after the water crisis, and leaders like Nancy Pelosi who are described as the old guard of the Dems and the reason change is needed on all levels.
Moore’s fierce and defiant film asks us to take charge of our lives and make a difference this election season. Tom Ortenberg, who has worked with Moore before when Lionsgate distributed one of his films, is unofficially launching his new company Briarcliff with this film which opens September 21st in a whopping 1600 theaters (the count as this point), perhaps the biggest launch ever for a documentary. The idea is to have this play throughout election season where the House and Senate are on the line.
Also a highlight of this night was when Moore brought some special guests onto the stage after the movie ended. In the film we see extensive sequences detailing the fight for pay for teachers in West Virginia, the outrage during the Flint, Michigan water crisis, and the aftermath of the Parkland High School massacre. Among those taking the Ryerson stage were Parkland survivor David Hogg and two other students who survived the school shooting, as well as April Hawkins who became the key whistle blower in the whole Flint water crisis. It was a dramatic moment as not only Moore got a standing ovation, but so did the Parkland kids and Flint survivor who all got a chance to speak.
At the pre-dinnner at Peter Pan Bistro, Moore delivered a preview of what we were about to see, a call to deep involvement if ever I heard one, describing the fact that he had just finished the film at somewhere around 3 AM Thursday. “It’s been crazy but really intense and so profoundly powerful for all of us who have been working on this,” he said. “It’s difficult for us on emotional level because we have to watch it over and over and over and over again. We can’t believe that we find ourselves tearing up on the 120th viewing… We’ve never made a film in a time of such terror. We didn’t feel this way during 9/11 when we were making that film, and in trying to share this with our fellow Americans we have a pretty good sense, and convinced with the two test screenings we had, and for media for which we had to get a box of kleenex. We hope we have done something profound, and something that will light a fire. We’re very much in a take-no-prisoners kind of mindset.”
Seeing the film, truer words were never spoken. This is a movie in which all the filmmakers right down the line are hoping to make a difference. During the post-screening Q&A, someone referred to the Parkland school shooting survivors on stage by shouting out “the generation of hope” which Moore quickly shot down by saying he no longer believes in hope. “That was Obama. This is a call to action,” he said.