Michael Moore on Where to Invade Next: ‘It’s not what you think it is’

Michael Moore is no shrinking violet. He’s a voluble, joyful presence. And he wants to talk about his new documentary, Where to Invade Next, which premieres Thursday night at the Toronto International Film Festival. He really wants to talk about it… but he doesn’t want to ruin the surprise either. And he worries we won’t believe him anyway.

“I get confronted with this problem all the time, where I feel like if I speak the truth, the truth is so unbelievable that the person is going to think I’m pulling their leg,” he says. “People would sit there and be like, ‘What planet are you on?’ So that’s why I’m hesitant on this, because this [movie’s] kind of truth is unbelievable.”

Where to Invade Next is Moore’s first documentary in six years, his last movie being Capitalism: A Love Story. He traveled the globe to make it but somehow kept the film under wraps. Few knew of it at all until the Toronto Film Festival announced it in July, after which Moore himself popped up on Periscope to describe his new satire of the American military-industrial complex that perpetuates a form of infinite war. Americans have been invading other countries for more than 100 years, but imagine where we might be if we were actually good at it. Toronto’s documentary programmer Thom Powers, who saw the film, said, “You get the sense he’s been saving himself to say something special, to say something meaningful, and that’s what this film is.” 

Moore is excited to share his film with the world, but cagey. As he says several times, Where to Invade Next “is not what you think it is.” But he’s a fascinating interview, and that’s before he even brings up the prospect of President Donald J. Trump. 

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: I think it was President Eisenhower who warned of the growing military-industrial complex way back in 1961. It would be an understatement to say that we haven’t heeded that warning. What’s your snapshot of the military-industrial complex in 2015?
MICHAEL MOORE: I hadn’t really thought of this until you asked the question, but I would say that the film is a follow-up to his warning, and it basically gets to show you what happens when we didn’t heed his warning. Not specifically about war — I’m talking about what did we lose in the process. What did we lose of ourselves and where did it go? The movie kind of answers that question in a very funny and provocative way. 

This isn’t a recent development sadly. Since I was born, our country has been at war pretty much non-stop in different places around the globe. But was there a moment that caused you to say, “This is my next movie”? What flipped the switch for you? 
I would say that this film has been percolating for 20 to 30 years. And it really sort of began — and we certainly didn’t know we were going to make movie about it — when one of my best friends who’s actually executive producer on the film and I first went backpacking in Europe in the ’70s. We got a Euro pass and youth hostel card, and every country we’d go to [laughs] we were like, “That’s such a great idea. Why don’t we do that?” If you’ve traveled, you’ve had that same thought.

The personal part of this is that in the last year, my father passed away and I got divorced. Those two events, and probably a few other things, had a profound impact on me, and not in a way that I would have guessed. For instance, my father’s passing, while a very sad thing, was also in a weird sort of way, life-affirming. In fact, I came out of that funeral with a sense of, “Life is great and way too short and let’s party like it’s 2099!” [Laughs] I felt like doing something very profound, and then I think just getting to a place in my life where I have a big group of people that I love who are my friends and a number of us have worked together for a long time, going back 20 years [or more]. And we like this idea of getting up in the morning and feeling excited about going to work. If you’ve ever been in the opposite situation, you know that you can’t put a price tag on that. So I think out of that place I came into this film. 

In the Periscope video you released at the time of the TIFF announcement, you talked about the secrecy you had to maintain and the idea of people chasing you and your crew. You’re tackling a powerful bureaucracy, bigger and scarier than anything you’ve done in the past. What can you tell me about operating in these waters? 
How do I explain this? It’s not what you would think. I think by the waters, you mean the Pentagon and war machine. I don’t want to say a whole lot about this until people see it, because it’s not what you think it is, in that sense. It is and it isn’t. You know, some people thought Sicko was going to be a movie about 50 million Americans who have literally no healthcare. And in the first three minutes, I say, “Actually this is not a movie about them. This is a movie about all of you who have Blue Cross, who have health insurance.” And then I spent the next two hours essentially showing people how we don’t really have any true healthcare in this country, and the people who are the most susceptible are the people who think they’re covered. So the movie became something very different than what people expected. Same thing with Bowling For Columbine. People thought that was going to be an advocacy film for more gun-control laws. And I started out making it that way. And then halfway through the film, I discovered something in Canada, which was that the Canadians, per capita, have more guns per household than we do — and they kill about 170 of each other every year in a nation of 34 million people. All of a sudden, the film shifted. It was no longer about having less guns and more an exploration of, “What’s wrong with us? What is it about us?” Because Canadian school children listen to Marilyn Manson and play the same violent video games, watch the same violent movies, but they don’t walk into a school and shoot it up. Americans are the people who do that.

But the main reason that we were quiet about [making this film] is that we live in an era where social media dominates, which I think is a great thing. But basically, we decided to unplug ourselves from social media, publicists, from the hype machine, and just do our best to be artists, do our best to be filmmakers. What kind of film would we make if we disconnected ourselves from all the noise? And that felt really good. We saw that we were in a different place. So we decided the best thing to do about this is to be very quiet and not talk about it — not because we have some big secret to keep, although I really don’t want people to read too much about the film, what the actually storyline is, until they see the film.

The problem with a government like ours is once it grabs or absorbs authority, it never gives it back without a fight. The Obama Administration, just as an example, has not rolled back some of the abusive practices of the Bush Administration, which itself inherited its own tactics and policies. Does the film address that in any way shape or form, or do you had any thoughts on that?
Yes, it does, but not in the way that you said it. Not the practices that you’re referring to. And this is not a film of Democrats versus Republicans or whatever. It’s not that kind of movie. But it is very much about how — what’s the way you put it? — the beast does not want to give back what the beast has been able to attain. So the film deals with that in multiple ways, not necessarily just the specific issue that you raise; for instance, all the powers the NSA now has and all the whistleblowers that Obama has tried to imprison — more than anybody. That’s not the point of this film, but there are a dozen other things where Clinton made it worse than Reagan and then Bush made it worse than Clinton and then Obama let it get worse than under Bush. Now he’s got a year and four months to try and roll some of that back. Because we don’t really know what’s going to happen under President Trump. 

You’re doing my work for me… Can you imagine a President Trump with these powers at his disposal? 
[Laughs] I think to have a president who is married to an immigrant would be a wonderful thing. It would show his love of immigration. I believe she’s from Slovenia, and a graduate of the University of Ljubljana, Mrs. Trump. So I think he’s certainly showed his love of immigrants. The thing about Trump is, you remember that movie in the ‘60s called Fantastic Voyage, a crazy hokey film where Raquel Welch and some scientist take a miniaturized submarine into this guy’s body to battle the evil things that are killing him? If I could just go inside Trump’s brain for just a couple hours and turn the hate button off. [Laughs] Did you see the poll last week where he polled with Hispanics? They recorded him as a negative. 

He claims he’s going to win Hispanics.
See, I think people love bat-sh– crazy. I think that that’s just us loving entertainment. You know, Stephen Colbert did that character. He was playing bat-sh– crazy Bill O’Reilly. This is actually Trump. This is not performance art.

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