"It's not a war movie, it's not about going to Afghanistan or Iran," says documentarian Michael Moore, when chatting about his new film "Where to Invade Next" during a holiday party with Oscar voters in New York City on December 17. "It's about going to countries that have great ideas that we should think about trying in this country, some of which we used to have."
Those ideas include Italy's generous workers' rights, Finland's education system, Slovenia's free college, Norway's humane prison system and Iceland's gender equality. "I made this film … because we thought that coming into an election year, we want these issues to be part of the national discussion." Moore added, "We had no idea Donald Trump would be the Republican nominee, which only makes the comedy in the film all that much funnier."
As with his previous films "Sicko," "Fahrenheit 9/11" and the Oscar-winning "Bowling for Columbine," "Where to Invade Next" highlights problems in American institutions. Howeer, it differs significantly in tone. "We called it on the crew the 'No Problems, All Solutions' movie," he says of the film's positivity. "It's literally two hours of how to fix every fucking thing in this country, but I'm not [the one] telling you how to fix it. I'm literally taking you into countries that have fixed it to show you how they do it. You'll have a sense of, 'You know what, we can do some of this stuff.' So I'm very optimistic about the response to the film."
Moore is no stranger to backlash and speculates as to how it might be received politically: "I've wondered even how Fox News is going to push back on this because what are they going to say? That Michael Moore doesn't want to poison our children with food in the lunchroom?" He suspects the film's most contentious topic will be race; the film posits that the consequence, and perhaps even the objective, of the war on drugs has been to imprison a disproportionate number of black Americans, who are often prohibited from voting ever again as a result.
America also has plenty of room for improvement regarding gender. Moore explains, "In our travels through all these countries, the one thing that was constant is that where women have true power, equal power, everybody has it better off – not just women, men have it better off, children have it better off, old people have it better off."
At the heart of the film's critique is how we value each other as Americans. He recalls a conversation with an Icelandic woman: "She said, 'I would not want to be your neighbor,' and when she first said that I thought that she didn't want to be Mexico or Canada. 'No, I wouldn't want to be your neighbor because you Americans don't treat each other very well.'"
"Where to Invade Next" recently made the list of 15 films still in contention for Best Documentary Feature at the Oscars. Despite being one of the industry's most famous documentarians, Moore has only been nominated twice for that award, winning for "Bowling for Columbine" in 2002 and contending again for "Sicko" in 2007. Do you think he'll prevail again?
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Michael Moore photo credit: Joe Kohen/Variety/REX