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June 27-July 3, 2007

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Moore in Motion

On a whirlwind Bay Area visit, Michael Moore talks about 'Sicko'

By Richard von Busack

THE JOVIAL Michael Moore stopped at the Bay Area after joining a rally in Sacramento of California nurses; after this interview, he went to L.A. There, he screened his documentary Sicko on a wall outside the L.A. Union Rescue mission—it's the same spot he visits in his film, the skid-row shelter where public hospitals were dumping patients.

While in L.A., the populist picador also scored off of Gov. Schwarzenegger, who vetoed health reform in California. At a speech Moore asked the governor to just give his citizens the same kind of health care he got when he was a boy in Austria.

Sicko is, Moore tells Metro, his "most dangerous film," in the sense that he is taking on a large and well-heeled system. However, Moore is not telling the people of the United States what they don't know already. He says, "Enough people have been hurt. They don't need to go to a movie to know we have a broken system. I have to hold some kind of hope that change is possible.

"It's like the sequence we filmed in France, and as the person at the cafe table says, 'The reason they have public health care in France is that the government is afraid of the people, and the reason they don't have public health care in America, is that the people are afraid of the government."

Opening nationwide on June 29, Sicko will put the issue of health care out there with such vigor and humor that no politician will be able to ignore the crisis in the coming election year.

METRO: Good news! The USA TODAY headline this morning says, "We're Living Longer, Healthier Lives!" So, where have you been with the film so far?

MOORE: After Cannes, I went to Kalamazoo, Mich., to screen the film for some of the nuns who educated me. They're still there, some of them getting up in years. Then it was back to London, Ontario, for the Canadian premiere.

METRO: Supposedly you have 500 hours of footage here. What did you hate to leave behind the most?

MOORE: There's footage of a homeless shelter in Britain where you get acupuncture and foot massages. And I had a scene in France, interviewing a woman who works for General Electric, who tells me all they get benefits that GE employees don't get in the United States. The biggest thing that I cut out, because I don't believe that movies should be longer than two hours, was a trip to Norway.

Norway's health system was so insanely good, that I said, "No one is going to believe this." Norway, if you have certain illnesses, like psoriasis or rheumatism, you get two weeks paid vacation at a spa in the Canary Islands. They hire a government ethicist to determine who they should spend their money on, because they want to do it in an ethical way. There's no crime in Norway that has longer than a 17-year sentence. And they have the lowest murder rate in Western Europe, because they don't believe that punishment per se is the best way to go.

METRO: You've dedicated this film to your mother. Did she have her own battles with HMOs?

MOORE: Not at all. My dad worked at GM, and was a union member, so he had great health care. And she had Medicare. I dedicated the film to her because I was grateful for what my mom gave me.

METRO: How is Flint, Michigan doing, post Roger & Me?

MOORE: Much worse. I live up state, so I'm down there quite a bit. It's in very bad shape. It's sad to see the destruction of the town.

METRO: The sound bite of Ronald Reagan being paid by the AMA in the 1950s to warn the crowd against socialized medicine made me want to know more about the fight against public health. Had there been talk of socialized medicine all the way back in the 1950s?

MOORE: FDR brought it up, along with Social Security, and he realized he wouldn't be able to get both of them through. The AMA fought Social Security, just like they later fought Medicare. They've always been on the wrong side of these issues. Today, though, the AMA is starting to think a little differently, though they've been slow on the uptake.

METRO: As an overweight person myself, and as someone who realizes the playground-level insults that flourish on the Internet, I'm wondering if you're expecting personal attacks—that bloggers will write that you, Moore, expect the government to pay for the consequences of your "choice of lifestyle," being overweight.

MOORE: A life-style choice? Well, one thing I've learned—and that's why I've started taking care of myself—you can avoid this system if you walk and eat more fruits and vegetables. I've lost 30 pounds in the last three months. That's one way to fight the man. If they were going to attack me like that, they'll be attacking two-thirds of the American public. And the public won't stand for that, because they're overweight themselves.

The serious attacks are going to come from the pharmaceutical and health-insurance industries. They'll be hoping to discredit me, because I'm calling for radical things. I want the elimination of private insurance companies. I want the pharmaceutical industry regulated as if they were a public utility. That's not good news to either of them. If I have anything to fear, it'll come with them.

METRO: If there's one thing Sicko proves, it's that nothing gets forgotten as quickly as recent history. One shot had Hillary Clinton touring a Safeway and showing the camera a Safeway paper bag advertising "Universal Health Care Now." Had you wanted to use the Goddard Clausen agency's "Harry and Louise" ads, the advertisements that helped turn the public against single-payer health?

MOORE: I was going to do it but I decided against it. I figured almost everyone remembers them. They were very effective ads, and people fell for them.

METRO: Can you recommend some books on the subject of the health-care mess?

MOORE: I'm going to have stuff on my website, but offhand there's a book by a Harvard professor, professor Warren ... and Dr. Marcia Angell's The Truth About Drug Companies: How They Deceive Us and What to Do About It.

METRO: This seemed to have the most visual sweep of any of your films.

MOORE: Have you ever seen anybody sail into Guantanamo Bay before? It was pretty frightening, but I thought, "This will be very cool."

METRO: And the scene where you go to Highgate Cemetery to visit Karl Marx's grave—was that shot an homage to Mike Leigh's film High Hopes?

MOORE: Very good! [Laughs]. I had a little more in there, but again I was trying to keep the movie at a decent length with a good pace. I've been told that Sicko is the work of the kinder, gentler Michael Moore. But I go to Cuba, and I visit Marx's grave—I'm not just going after one company. I'm saying the whole system needs to be upended, and that, to me, makes Sicko a lot more radical and much more dangerous film than anything I've done before.

If the American people actually listen to what I'm saying here, we'll need to start rethinking everything in terms of how we treat each other and how we structure our society.

If we start doing that, it won't just be health care that's gonna get fixed. We'll be a better people and better citizens in this world. And the rest of the world is going to feel a hell of a lot safer.

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