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Michael Moore

Michael Moore


The man who took on Bush and 9/11 has set his sights on another tragedy--the American health care system. In his latest documentary, Sicko, Michael Moore reveals the dark side of health care in a capitalist system. But the question remains: Will he ever make a movie about us?

Were you aware you had a big gay following? [Laughs] Yes, actually I am aware of that. I first became aware of it when Girlfriends magazine put me on their cover as one of their men of the year. I consider that my highest honor to date. But no, I'm aware of it because I know that if you believe in equality, if you believe in standing up for the rights of all, especially for people most affected by bigotry and discrimination, then you have no choice but to be present and accounted for when it comes to standing up for gays and lesbians in our society.

You directed a documentary about R.E.M. Are you tight with Michael Stipe? Michael Stipe first of all is just a wonderful human being and a good soul. He's always been very supportive of me and very willing to be there and share with me his insight in terms of how to navigate oneself through this culture and this world, especially when you become a known individual and all the noise that surrounds that.

When you were making Sicko, you put a request on your Web site for people's medical stories and received thousands of responses. How many of those were HIV-related? I would say there were quite a number of them. I have been talking a lot about this while I've been on this press tour. In the mid '70s there were 25 pharmaceutical companies working on cures and vaccines for various illnesses and diseases. Today there are five. Five companies. What happened was the pharmaceutical companies realized there wasn't any money in cures and vaccines, because once you cure them, they don't need your pills anymore. So the industry made a conscious effort to steer away from finding any permanent cures or vaccines and got the public thinking more about living with an illness or disease for the rest of their life. Whether that was high cholesterol, diabetes, or MS. But in my humble opinion, it is most evident with HIV. They have all done such a good job of patting themselves on the back for coming up with the right medicines for those with HIV to take on a daily basis, and the right mixture and concoction of these various pills and medicines. We have enough examples of people now who are living and not dying, but they are going to need to be on expensive medications for the rest of their lives. This is good news for the pharmaceutical industry. If we had a president, if we had a Congress that said, "We are making it a priority that we cure this--that we cure it or, if necessary, vaccinate for it. We need to do something so people are not tethered to the pharmaceutical industry for the rest of their life." But that would require some real leadership.

And, I would imagine, quite a bit of money. Is that the problem? Yes, it would require a financial commitment. But the pharmaceutical companies do such a good job of convincing the public that your drugs cost so much because of all this R&D [research and development]. Well, here's the truth: Of all the R&D monies spent, only 15% comes from the drug company itself. The other 85% comes from the taxpayers, grants, and private contributions. Yes, it would need a financial commitment at first, but if we were to cure this, think of the lessening of the burden on this country.

It's interesting that so many people who are doing AIDS research are not affiliated with the giant pharmaceutical companies... Exactly.

But why can't the researchers make the same headway? Is it just because they don't have the same resources? That would be my hunch. Look at Jonas Salk, the man who came up with the polio vaccine. It essentially eliminated polio from this country, which was devastating the country at the time. He was asked after he came up with the polio vaccine, "Are you going to patent this? Because it's yours, you found it." And he said, "Absolutely not. Would you patent the sun? This belongs to the people." That was the attitude that doctors and scientists used to have. The man that invented the kidney dialysis machine wouldn't patent it. But greed, greed entered the room, and once greed came in, then it was all about the money.

In the film you interview a wealthy doctor in London who seems to be satisfied with making "plenty" of money, as opposed to "obscene" amounts of money. And what do we usually hear about the doctors under socialized medicine: They are paupers and serfs.

But it is true that they are not going to make, say, $10 million a year. But you are going to live very comfortably.

Do you think doctors would ever make that concession in this country? Well, they're going to have to. It wasn't always this way. My grandfather was a country doctor back in the early part of the 20th century. He got paid with chickens and milk and eggs. [Laughs] He was in the profession because he wanted to help people, not to make money. And we are just going to have to get back to that if things are ever going to get better.

I have to say after seeing the film, I felt like moving to another country where the medical system and the government make it a point to take care of everyone. Is there hope for reforming the system? Are we all doomed? We're only doomed if we remain apathetic. It's like the woman said in the film, the only reason the French have [their generous benefits] is because the government is afraid of the people. In America, "we the people" are afraid of the government. That's what has to change. The people of America have to get up out of the chair, get involved, and do something. When we all do that, that's when things are going to change.

Do you think it's possible? I do think it's possible. First of all, the majority of Americans either have themselves or know someone who has had a terrible experience with the health care system. Once it happens to you, you become much more sympathetic. It's actually one of the reasons I am optimistic about the rights of gays and lesbians improving in this country in the not-too-distant future. Because everyone has someone who is gay or lesbian in their family or their extended family. Those gays and lesbians who 20 or 30 years ago decided to come out did something very brave and also helped to turn things. For those who were filled with hate, the hate was against the unknown and it had to do with their own personal fears. Once it was humanized, once their son or daughter said to them, "I'm gay," or their best friend said, "I'm gay," or that next-door neighbor that was always there for them to help with the kids or mow the lawn said, "I'm gay," it became very hard for a lot of people to hate. Now, that's not to say that there weren't a lot of people's parents who just disowned their kids and friends, who said, "Well, I'm just not going to be friends with them anymore." But you know, that wasn't the majority experience. As more and more people have been willing to come out and more and more people realize that these are people that I care about, it's reduced the hatred, it's reduced the sense of wanting to be a bigot, because now it's personal. So the more that that happens, the more that people are willing to take that risk, the more that people are willing to speak out, things will get better. But it will require the brave and courageous actions of a few people, and then more and more people will join them.

Do you feel that Fahrenheit 9/11, outside of financial considerations, was a success in terms of motivating people and changing the country? Oh, yes. A lot of people tied it to the election and that would have been nice. But I gotta tell you, I knew that I lived in a nation of slow learners. [Laughs] And believe me, I'm one of them. I said to myself, they may not come around in just four months between the film and the election, but I did know that when people eventually found out the truth about this war, they would turn. And they would turn on Bush and they would turn against the war. And that's exactly what happened. And there had to be those few people at the beginning--myself, the Dixie Chicks, a few others--who were willing to stand up and say the emperor has no clothes. And we knew that we were going to take some pretty severe hits for doing that. But we also knew that people would eventually come around. Every day I get great e-mails from people who used to support the war, people who used to be Republicans, and they are grateful that someone had bothered to say, hey, I think what's going on here is wrong.

Sickoisn't very anti-Bush. I mean, you didn't avoid it, but was minimizing that intentional? Yes. First of all, that would just be too easy. I have already made my anti-Bush film, when it wasn't popular to be anti-Bush. Now I live in the mainstream majority of the 70% who don't approve of him. That wouldn't be very challenging. But I did decide to begin the movie with a good Bush joke, just to have a good laugh and to fool people a little bit. You know, after those first 10 seconds you think, Oh, my god, here he goes again. [Laughs] But no, it's time to take you now to a new place.

In the film you give the biggest anti-Moore blogger a check for $12,000 to pay for an operation his wife needed. But you sent it anonymously. Did he find out it was you? Yes, I called him actually just before the first screening of the film in Cannes and told him that it was me. I didn't want him sandbagged by the media.

Was he pissed? No, no, in fact he put a thing up on his Web site right away thanking me and wishing me well with the film. He has since gotten a lot of hate mail from people on the left.

Is he still rallying against you? Not as much.

You tackled some gay issues in your TV show The Awful Truth. Would you ever throw your weight behind one of our issues and make a film about "don't ask, don't tell" or gay marriage? I am not sure what I am going to do for my next film, but I certainly believe that I have no right to tell another couple whether they can or cannot be married. That is simply not allowed in my ethical book of standards. I am a very spiritual person--I don't talk about it publicly that much, but I went to the seminary when I was in high school; I read the New Testament. And let me tell you something: There is nowhere in the four Gospels where Jesus uses the word homosexual, nor the word abortion. The right wing has appropriated this guy. It makes you think, what someone can do in your name a thousand years from now. [Laughs] And they have used him to attack gays and lesbians, when he never said a single word against people who are homosexual. Anyone who professes to be a Christian and does that is certainly not following the teachings of Jesus Christ.

Would you ever make a movie about that, or do you think that's already being taken care of by other filmmakers? I think it's a very ripe subject for someone like me to make a movie about it, simply because we are not there yet and it remains one of the last open wounds on our soul that we are not willing to fix yet. And so I have often thought as a straight person that I should continue to tackle this issue even in a long-form documentary, because generally you wouldn't expect that of me.

We would expect you to take on the most important hypocrisies of the time, and gay marriage has moved to the center of the debate. Right. But it's also something that doesn't affect me directly. But those are exactly the kind of films that I often think about making. I mean, I have probably one of the best health plans in the country because I belong to the Directors Guild; I have a ridiculously good health insurance plan.

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