EXCLUSIVE: Michael Moore’s latest film Where To Invade Next, which was to have begun its national rollout in two weeks on December 23, will now open in a few hundred theaters beginning February 12 — three days after the New Hampshire primary. The documentary, Moore’s first in six years, will be distributed by the still-untitled new company of former Radius chiefs Tom Quinn and Jason Janego along with Alamo Drafthouse’s Tim League. It now will be released for one week only in a Los Angeles and New York theater in order to qualify for the Oscars, and then re-open on Feburary 12, a date which also happens to be Abraham Lincoln’s birthday.
It has already been shortlisted by the Academy’s documentary branch as one of 15 finalists for the five Documentary Feature Oscar slots that will announced January 14, and it must meet the Academy’s qualifying rules. Thus the one-week limited run this month that Moore describes as a series of sneak previews.
The new release is partly timed to take advantage of the Oscar race and give the film a stronger footing, Moore told me this morning discussing his big plans for the launch of the movie with “a 50-state strategy.” The idea is for Moore to embark on a massive rock ‘n roll-style tour of every state (even Alaska and Hawaii, which they are still figuring out) in a big specially designed Where To Invade Next bus. The tour will run for six weeks beginning January 4 and up to the film’s opening with a “premiere” in every state. Moore came up with the plan and pitched it to his distributors, who immediately warmed to it and changed their previous release plans.
Moore said he got the idea after seeing test scores from various areas like Pittsburgh, Yonkers and other locations that came in with recommends in the 90s — higher than any of his previous films or even those of Quinn and Janego, who most recently ran Radius, a specialty division of The Weinstein Company.
“What it has shown us is the film not only plays well as just a movie, but the issues raised in the film deeply affect people,” Moore said. “So I said to Tom and Jason before we go wide why not give me a month or so to barnstorm the country, me personally, in a big rock ‘n roll tour bus, and we will crisscross the country showing the film for free, leading up to the New Hampshire primary because the issues in the film are the issues, the real issues, people want being discussed in this election year,” he said, adding they may also have music and rallies along the way.
Moore said he specifically wanted to open the film the week of the New Hampshire primary, and thus this unique marketing blitz was hatched. He says the plan is to start in about 300-400 screens and get it up to 750 within two weeks, or possibly even a 1000, which puts it in the range of previous Moore films like Fahrenheit 911, the most successful documentary ever, as well as his Oscar-winning Bowling For Columbine. The new plan could also be effective in terms of an inadvertent Oscar campaign as the tour launches during voting for nominations, and the film will now open just as final ballots go out.
Moore, however, says his chief goal is to put the issues raised in the film — which he calls non-partisan — on the national agenda and make it part of the election discussion. “It’s not about supporting any one candidate — I haven’t endorsed anybody,” he said. “What we have found is people leave the movie with a lot of hope, that we can turn things around. We have found there is a sense of optimism but also audiences have a building anger during the film, because as you’re watching me invade these countries and you see they have these things we should have you are going ‘wait a minute. I live in the USA,’ ” he added of the movie he shot around Europe in complete secrecy.
During the first Toronto screening, which drew every distributor in town and was eventually picked up by Quinn and Janego’s new company, it was described as “Mike’s happy film.” That’s largely because it is probably his most optimistic as he “invades” various countries like France, Italy, Germany, Denmark and others to “steal good ideas and spirit them back to the USA.” The film deals with universal health care, employee benefits, free college education and many more issues Moore points out are popular around the world but unheard of in the U.S. even though they may have had their beginnings in America at one time.
Moving the film out of the harms way of Star Wars: The Force Awakens, which opens next Friday, is probably not a bad idea in terms of maximizing box office potential. “The week after December 18th is more about putting flowers on various graves,” he laughed, while admitting he already has his own tickets for the 9 AM Star Wars show on the 19th in New York. “I think people knew Star Wars was going to be huge, but it does give us the added advantage of avoiding the tsunami and having our film be out there on its own terms and build its own national audience of millions. So that’s what I will do on the road for those six weeks and when it opens hopefully lots of people will come see it,” he said.