American documentary filmmaker Michael Moore is celebrating the 30th anniversary of his groundbreaking film Roger and Me at the 2019 Vancouver International Film Festival.
Since that documentary put him on the mainstream map, Moore has gone on to make nine more feature-length films, as well as stir up the national political debate.
Robin Gill sat down with Moore to talk politics and the filmmaker’s election predictions on both sides of the border.
Here’s the full transcript of their interview:
ROBIN GILL: You have this affinity for Canada. Why is that?
MICHAEL MOORE: I don’t know. On the way here I thought, “I’ve got to help somehow here, I’ve got to help our neighbours.” And I thought one thing I could do is bring back an American who’s trying to become your prime minister. So if I get to meet Mr. Scheer while I’m here, I will speak to his American side and tell him that we desperately need him back home right now.
WATCH: Michael Moore talks Trump and what the Democrats need in 2020
RG: You wanted to be a Canadian at one point. Is that still on your radar?
MM: No, I don’t wanna be a Canadian citizen, but I would like a passport. Just an insurance policy, an “in case” sort of thing.
RG: You’re obviously in tune with Canadian politics. What do you think of our current campaign?
MM: Well it’s confusing to Americans because of the four main candidates. You have a white man in blackface, you have a Canadian who is also an American —
RG: Did the blackface turn you off?
MM: I was so disappointed. You do understand that Mr. Trudeau is beloved in the United States in large part because he’s everything that Trump isn’t. So in contrast you have a prime minister that goes to the airport to welcome refugees that come here, he seems to have a kind heart, you know he cares about his people. These are all things that we now no longer have.
It’s interesting, that great moment where Trudeau and Obama had lunch together in that diner, wherever they were. I remember people saying at the time, “Canada now has their Obama: someone who cares, someone with a heart someone for peace and goodwill.”
So it was just sad to see that. My first thought was actually, “What is wrong with white people?” Seriously, what is this that white guys, especially in their youth, want to dress up as a person of color?
RG: Do you think he should still remain as prime minister?
MM: That’s up to him and to the Canadians. It’s really wrong for an American to say anything about what you should do. I’m sure he feels very bad about it, but you can’t get a good explanation out of it can you? I mean you can say he was young, but I was that age and never in 1,000 years would I have ever thought of doing something like that. But he admitted right away: “I’m a child of privilege, white privilege.”
RG: You’ve become more of a political commentator, so let’s talk about the impeachment inquiry. Is this phone call to Ukraine’s president what America needed that Mueller couldn’t produce?
MM: It is really fascinating that Robert Mueller spent two years, a dozen or so prosecutors, investigators, everything. And he could not do anything to dislodge Trump. In fact, Mueller’s investigation was so weak in the sense that it produced facts that we already knew, and he was unable to even get an interview with Trump. He couldn’t force Trump to sit down and be questioned. Bill Clinton had to be questioned. See, people laugh at Giuliani and Trump’s lawyers, a guy named Ty Cobb. But they clearly were geniuses in some weird sense, because they protected Trump from ever having to answer a question under oath from the prosecutor. He must have felt relieved the day of Mueller’s testimony.
Mueller had never been really in front of the cameras and the microphones during investigation, so we imagined this mythical character, the strong man with a broad shoulders investigating the criminal President Trump. Then, like the Wizard of Oz, you pull back the curtain and he’s sitting at the table, and four or five times he couldn’t find the microphone that was right in front of him. It was sad. Over 100 times he said, “I can’t answer that. I don’t want to get involved.” It was shocking, and it must have been shocking to Trump. And Trump sat there and watched that. July 24. The phone call to the president of Ukraine was July 25. The very next day, Trump wakes up after a breakfast of KFC. He’s feeling strong. He really — he beat the strong man. He beat them all. And in his arrogance, knowing that a dozen people were listening to the call and were witnesses, he just went ahead and broke the law and invited a foreign leader to interfere with our elections.
RG: You predicted that he would win the 2016 election. How did it get to that?
MM: Well, six months before the election when I tried to tell my fellow Americans that Trump was going to win and he was going to win by winning Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, nobody wanted to hear that. Plus it sounded crazy. How could this idiot? Look at Hillary Clinton, maybe the smartest person ever to run for president, or in the top five at least. How could she lose? How could we lose? I said because I live in Michigan, I see what’s going on here. People are angry. Michigan voted for Bernie in the Michigan primary. Wisconsin voted for Bernie in the Wisconsin primary. I already saw it. People didn’t want the old guard that gave the industrial Midwest the crummy life that it’s living and have been living for the last couple of decades. So absolutely, for sure. You know I knew Trump was going to pull this off only because of the anger amongst the voters.
RG: Is he going to repeat a victory in 2020?
MM: If you’d asked me that question two weeks ago I would have said yes if the election were today. Now, after he has so brazenly committed what I think is an act of treason, so publicly and admitted it? I don’t even know if he’ll be on the ballot at this point.
RG: Who’s the natural Democratic candidate to beat him?
MM: Well I think just four or five that could beat Trump, but beating Trump is not enough. Hillary beat him. Beating him isn’t what we have to do. You have to crush him. The question is: who is the person who absolutely would crush him today without a doubt? And I don’t know if it’s any of the 19 that are running. I mean there’s a couple that, if you know my politics, obviously I like a lot. Bernie and Elizabeth Warren and Biden could beat him. Maybe even Buttigieg could beat him. Kamala Harris could beat him, but beating him isn’t enough to win the Electoral College. So in order to absolutely crush Trump, like if you want to absolutely make sure that Trump is going to lose, I’d be running a beloved American.
In my mind that person is Michelle Obama. As soon as I say that everyone says, “Oh yeah.” And then right away they go, “Oh she wouldn’t, she’s not going back there.” I saw her first appearance, at the bookstore in New York back in November when her book came out, that’s what she said. “I’m not going back to 1600 Pennsylvania.” But in the month since, she continued her book tour. She extended it because they had to move her into arenas. She never did a bookstore. She had to be in 15,000-seat arenas in the Midwest, in the south. She is a beloved American and would absolutely crush Trump.
RG: You have said that the candidate has to be anti-Trump. Aren’t all Democrats anti-Trump?
MM: Yeah, that’s not enough to be anti-Trump. You have to show Americans a huge contrast between yourself and Donald Trump in order to win this election. If Democrats are just going to run on the negative of “I’m not Trump” … wow, that’s pretty disappointing. That’s such a low bar you set for yourself. Of course you’re not Trump. Who is Trump? To be Trump you have to be without empathy, without a conscience. You have to be a narcissist of such a magnitude that I don’t know when we’ve seen anybody like this.
RG: Do you think Joe Biden could be your guy? You said that he could alienate the progressive side of things.
MM: I like Joe Biden. I’ve met him a couple of times, he’s a good guy. We need to inspire the Democratic base. People are very depressed. There is a malaise across the land. And next Nov. 3, a little over a year from now, we need a person who, when you the American voter wake up in the morning, you can’t wait to get out of bed to go vote for … fill in the blank. Who is that person that’s going to inspire people? Not the people that always vote, but I’m talking about the Democratic base that oftentimes doesn’t vote. That’s who we’ve got to bring out to the American electorate next year. Seventy per cent of those who are eligible to vote are either women, people of colour or young adults between the ages of 18 and 35. That’s the Democratic base. So what can be done? Well first, pick a candidate that’s going to inspire women, people of colour and young people to not only go to the polls, but bring five to 10 people with them. That’s what we should be thinking about. That’s the strategy.
RG: Okay, let’s talk about your films. You’ve drawn Canada into your films, from Bowling for Columbine to Sicko. What is it about us that you think we’re doing right?
MM: Probably the main reason Canada is in most of my films is it’s only 60 miles from Flint. You know, it’s a half a mile across the river from Detroit. It’s just easy to get a crew and go over there. To just say we’re visiting for the day, or we just came over to get some Tim Hortons and then head back. But you know, get some filming done….
No, look, the United States is very fortunate to have, right on our very border, a country that structures itself differently than we do in ways that have a deep regard for our fellow human beings. Canada is not perfect. It has many problems. You don’t need to listen to those from an American. But let me tell you what you do have: You actually believe that when a person gets sick, they shouldn’t lose their house. That’s a Canadian value. People are actually pausing right now, thinking, “What do mean lose your house?” That’s inconceivable here in this country because you believe that’s a human right. You will not join us when we want to go and invade other countries. You actually believe that peace is the better path than war, than killing.
And speaking of killing, you do actually have a lot of guns, mostly hunting rifles and shotguns. It’s a big nation of hunters. So why aren’t those guns being used to kill each other? On any given year how many gun murders are there in Canada? Hundred and fifty? Two hundred and fifty?
RG: We think that’s high, and there are calls to ban handguns in this country.
MM: And you should actually. But to even get a handgun permit in this country, it’s difficult. You can’t just go into Walmart and buy a handgun. There’s a process you have to go through here.
RG: So when you take your film like Bowling for Columbine, do you think you have affected change in the U.S? Have you changed policies and made it a better place?
MM: I know that over the years, American teachers show my films in schools a lot. So a lot of young people have grown up thinking about things like guns or health care or capitalism in a different way. So I know the effect that that has had, and I know why people come to my movies and why they come in larger numbers than a nature documentary or something like that. I’m very self-critical, so I think of it sometimes as, you know, I made this film about General Motors and Flint. And where are we? President Obama never should have given General Motors back to General Motors. You know, after the government took it over, I mean they could’ve given it back with the mandate. You could have your company back if you start building cars without the internal combustion engine. If you start building light rail and bullet trains and transportation for the 21st century. General Motors could do that.
But we still have an enormous amount of gun violence, as is evident every day every week. And we have Obamacare, but 30 million people still don’t have a card. If I walk around British Columbia today, how many thousands would I find without a British Columbia Health Care Card? You know, not that many. Maybe nobody, no adult. Because it’s a right. We don’t have that still.
What I say to my fellow American citizens and why I often put Canada in my films is I’m trying to tell Americans we need to be more Canadian, like we’ll be a better people if we are. We don’t have to give up our Americanism. We just have a neighbor who’s kind of showing us they could mentor us a little bit. It’s okay, it doesn’t take away our “we’re number one!” No Canadian wants to state “we’re number one!” They’re just there to show us there’s a better way to do things. It’s not perfect, but it is better.
— Intro and transcription by Becca Clarkson