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Exclusive Interview: Michael Moore for "Bowling for Columbine"

By Paul Fischer Friday October 18th 2002 12:12PM
Michael Moore for "Bowling for Columbine"

The man from Flint, Michigan is back and madder than ever when it comes to the subject of gun control. The bombastic, talkative and exuberant 48-year old may well be indeed a card-carrying member of the NRA, but in Toronto for his launch of Bowling for Columbine, Moore had become sickened following the Columbine massacre.

Thus his new film was born. "After Columbine, I just kind of had it. It seemed like back then there was like a school shooting a week, and I just thought: Oh, gees, I've got to do something with this," explains Moore. He recalls starting off "With a sort of typical liberal view point, in that if only we had less guns and more gun control laws, we've have less violence." That might have been Moore's initial intention but as he adds: As I got into making the film and it became clear to me that that wasn't the answer and especially once coming to Canada, you know, and going to the office of Canadian statistics where they've got seven million registered guns in this country. Ten million households, right, seven million guns. I thought that's a hell of a lot of guns to have lying around. Even though the majority of them are shotguns and rifles, you know, they don't have oozies here, no hand gun in the night table, you know. But, if you want to get a gun in Canada you can. You got to go through a lot of hoops, you can't be a wife beater or anything like that, but you know, if you wait a month you can get a gun."

But the Canadians don't have the monopoly over the ease of gun ownership. The opening sequence of Moore's startling film has him being able to get a gun by merely opening a bank account in one town. Hilarious and absurd on the one hand, disturbing on the other. "I was so nervous about that very issue, that I did not say that the city it was in because I was just afraid, when the teller says that there were 500 guns in the vault, this is not something that I should be advertising exactly where this is," Moore says laughingly. Of course Moore's vision, as often startling as it is, is by no means parochially American or Canada. Sold internationally at record levels, clearly Bowling for Columbine is designed to take an American tragedy and broaden its ramifications internationally. The reason is simple, he says. "It's because you in Australia and people from other countries are afraid that you may be becoming more like us," says Moore with a quieter tone. "Americans in Cannes when the film sold so well internationally, had the attitude that it's because you guys hate Americans, you love to laugh at Americans, goofy Americans, or whatever. But, the truth was, because I saw it with the international audiences in Cannes, the feeling coming out of there was whatever we do we have to stop going down this road."

Moore explains what that American road leads to. "If we don't deal with our race problem in our country, if you don't deal with your race problem in Australia, if you don't deal with your conservative governments, now, blaming them, going and beating up the poor and the immigrants and the others, you know, if you don't deal with these things yourself, you're going to start to look like us. That's what the warning siren is in the film to people in other countries that if you want to end up in our predicament, just keep doing what you're doing."

Moore is unapologetic about his Leftist stance, but with school shootings on the rise and recent sniper attacks bombarding the airwaves, he believes that most Americans, at any rate are on his side. He may be right, and what he wants, is for this so-called Christian country to live up to its Judaic-Christian doctrine. No kidding. "Americans need to be a little more Christian. What would Jesus do? Would Jesus beat up on the poor? No really, I wonder how we come off calling ourselves Christians or a Christian country when the whole message of this guy was blessed are the poor. That was the first thing out of his mouth on that mountain, right?"

But to Moore, the problems that lead to excessive gun ownership go beyond a lack of Christian values. "We are in an economic system that is set up to benefit the few at the expense of the many which is wrong. Now I don't know what the solution is to it. I'm not saying that Communism or Socialism or whatever are the answers; I've never read anything by Marx, I am not that educated even though I know I look like a smart guy," says Moore laughingly.

The 48-year-old filmmaker from Flint, Michigan, is best known for his confrontational style, which resulted in acclaimed films such as Roger & Me and TV shows such as The Awful Truth. He also wrote the hit book Stupid White Men. Bowling For Columbine, which was a smash sensation at the Cannes Film Festival in May, has the potential to be his most popular film ever, and argues "that it's the kind of movie I like to see. It's funny, poignant and interesting, your perfect Saturday night out," says Moore, laughingly. I set out first of all to make a film that I would want to go see on a Friday night so my first audience is me, and I trust that there is at least a million or two million people like me, you know, 270 million that like to see the same movie. I don't set out to try and please some audience or demographic." While Moore's vision in this film is often tough-minded and deals with some thorny issues, Moore says that after seeing his film, it should be evident that at heart, he remains an optimist "because things get better. Slavery ends, Hitler dies, things get better and the bad guys usually do lose in the end. That is the truth. And in the end, things do improve and, so you have a lot of the humor in these films, because the humor is there as a part of release off the pressure, because if you leave the theater depressed, you are paralyzed by the despair. I don't want you to go have a beer and go let's just forget about that, and so the world sucks. I want you to leave the theater angry, and feeling like you've better do something. I am kind of pushing your citizen button, activate it to say this is a democracy, this is not a spectator sport, and this is a participatory event. If the people don't participate it doesn't exist."

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