My Left Foot: Michael Moore on Pedis and Politics
“This is supposed to be the best festival in the world, for God’s sake,” Michael Moore huffs, half in jest, after learning the sound on the clip from his upcoming DVD release, The Great ’04 Slack Uprising, isn’t working. Moore is here to show pieces of two forthcoming films: Slacker Uprising, put together from footage shot while he was on the road promoting John Kerry in 2004, and Sicko, an examination of the US health care system, due out next spring. So far, however, no good. The TIFF organizer departs to fix the problem.
Moore and the evening’s moderator, the black derby-sporting Larry Charles, sit in the middle of the Elgin Theatre stage and struggle for words. Moore is visibly shaken. Best to just laugh and sigh. Laugh and sigh.
This isn’t how things were meant to go. TIFF is Moore’s festival. His success here with the groundbreaking 1989 documentary Roger & Me is what inspired Disney to buy it. Agreeing to screen snippets of two films-in-progress at the festival was a huge risk. Now it’s looking like it might not pay off.
There’s not much else to talk about. Moore has already run through his teenaged flirtations with the priesthood and his election to the school board at 18. He’s already discussed his alternative newspaper and his four months with Mother Jones. We’ve run through his documentary and dramatic films, Moore’s recollection of his final conversation with John Candy and a play he directed in college. He’s even put in an impassioned plea for Oprah to run for President.
As good a filmmaker as he is, Moore might be an even better storyteller. But now there’s a noticeable lull. Until, that is, the subject of pedicures come up. With that, Moore springs back to life. His wife, he says, recently forced him to go in for a foot massage and nail filing. Though he was reluctant at first, the experience made him an instant convert. “When it was over, I thought I had new feet!” he exclaims.
To kill time and accommodate technical difficulties An Evening with Michael Moore has become an episode of Oprah. When the organizer comes back on stage to tell Moore they’re ready to try showing the film clip again, the audience begs him to first finish his pedicure story.
But no, the clip stubbornly refuses to cooperate: there’s still no sound. “Okay,” the organizer says, “just keep talking. We’ll see if the Sicko clips are useable.”
Moore leans back and looks out at the ornate Edwardian surroundings. He sighs again. “And this is one of the nicest theatres. I mean we’re not at Ryerson. We’re not at some shitty college.” Laughter erupts. Moore is of course referring to the previous night’s aborted screening of Charles’ Borat film. When the projector unspooling that film experienced difficulties on Thursday, Moore, who was attending the screening, rushed to the booth to see if he could solve the problem.
“God is spiting me,” he says. “I knew I should never show a film until it’s done.” He wonders if some divine force is warning him that the theatre is crawling with reps from pharmaceutical companies, all of whom will run back to their bosses with reports on Sicko’s content. When news that he was making a film about the US health care system hit, Pfizer instantly set-up a What-to-do-if-Michael-Moore-shows-up-at-your-office help line. Another company hired a profiler. Getting insurance for a film that was critical of the insurance industry was impossible.
That, he explains, helped inspire a shift in the film’s focus. Gradually, Moore says, he stopped looking at the US health care system specifically, and instead began asking why it is that Americans are “wired” differently than Canadians or Norwegians—people who support the existence of a public health care system.
The real epiphany came while he was watching a soccer game in England. Moore couldn’t understand why, when a player had free space to move forward with the ball, he often held back. “We have something called the offside rule,” an English friend explained. The basic difference between soccer and American football became the filmmaker’s new model for explaining significant cultural differences.
In the end, the clips from Sicko ended up looking and sounding fine. They were, as Moore explained, attempts to challenge the notion that current American health insurance norms serve the country’s best interest. He interviews Americans whose insurance companies don’t deem their heart attacks an “emergency” or feel that their contracting cervical cancer at 22 years of age is too risky to grant them coverage.
You can imagine how all this went down with a proud Canadian audience. There’s nothing we love more than having our egos stroked by American celebrities. Moore is perhaps our greatest international champion. He talks about Tommy Douglas and the wonders of our crisis-ridden health care system and we stand and cheer in appreciation. At the end of the day, however, audience members were just as likely to leave talking about the well-being of Moore’s newly pampered feet.