Charlotte Higgins in CannesSaturday May 19, 2007
Cannes is smacking its lips in anticipation of filmmaker and
provocateur Michael Moore's latest jeremiad against the US
administration, which receives its premiere at the film festival
today. Sicko, a documentary tackling the state of American
healthcare, focuses on the pharmaceutical giants, and particularly
on health insurers.
The film has already caused Moore - who won the Palme d'Or at Cannes
in 2004 with Fahrenheit 911 - to clash with the American
authorities. Now, according to movie mogul Harvey Weinstein, whose
Weinstein Company is behind the film, the US government is
attempting to impound the negative.
According to Weinstein, the US Treasury's moves meant "we had to fly
the movie to another country"- he would not say to where. "Let the
secret service find that out - though this is the same country that
thought there were weapons of mass destruction, so they'll never
find it." He added that he feared that if the film were impounded,
there might be attempts to cut some footage, in particular the last
20 minutes, which related to a trip to Cuba. This, said Weinstein,
"would not be good."
In March, Moore travelled to the Caribbean island with a group of
emergency workers from New York's Ground Zero to see whether they
would receive better care under the Castro regime than they had
under George Bush. He had applied for permission to travel in
October 2006 and received no reply.
In a letter dated May 2, the treasury department notified Moore that
it was investigating him for unlicensed travel to Cuba, or, as the
missive put it, engaging in "travel-related transactions involving
Now team Moore is hitting back. Weinstein has hired an attorney,
David Boies, who has lodged a request under the US freedom of
information act to find out what motivated the treasury to begin its
investigation. "They have to tell us why they did it and what they
did," said Weinstein. "And they are not too happy about it."
Weinstein believes the investigation has a political agenda.
"We want to find out who motivated this. We suspect there may be
interference from another office," he said. "Otherwise, I don't
understand why this would have come about."
Weinstein named no suspects in this putative political interference,
but referred to outspoken critics of Moore on the Republican right -
who tend to accuse him of peddling propaganda rather than of
undertaking serious journalism - including presidential hopeful Bob
"Senator Thompson has come out with a tirade against Michael.
Michael said he'd debate him, but Thompson turned him down," said
Weinstein.He also said that insurers and pharmaceutical companies
had "already sent out letters advising employees how to react when
the film comes out".
Weinstein appeared to be enjoying the brouhaha that the film is
stirring up before it has even screened. "I've already told the
Treasury that they are saving me money on advertising."
In Cannes, the Weinstein Company's offices are decorated with a
mural of the rotund Moore sitting in a hospital waiting area flanked
by a pair of skeletons, and Sicko sticking plasters are being given
away as promotional gifts.
Moore's underlying thesis in Sicko relates to the structure of
American society. "Others see themselves as a collective that sinks
or swims together," he told Variety.
"It's important to have a safety net and free universal health care.
In America, unfortunately, we're more focused on what's in it for
me. It's every man for himself. If you're sick and have lost a job,
it's not my problem. Don't bother me."
The insurance companies are a negative force, he believes. "They get
in the way of taking care of those who are ill. They make it worse.
We don't need them," he said.
The health secretary, Patricia Hewitt, may be surprised by Moore's
ringing - if strictly speaking, factually inaccurate - endorsement
for the NHS. "The poorest Brit is healthier and lives longer than
the wealthiest American," he said.
Of his journalistic style, he said: "It's the op-ed page. You don't
say that's not journalism. I present my opinion, my take on things,
based on indisputable facts. They could be wrong. I think they're
right." Moore's biggest hit to date has been Fahrenheit 911, which
took 2m (£112m) worldwide. He made Bowling For Columbine, his
acclaimed film about US gun culture, in 2002. The rightwing backlash
has spawned a number of documentaries questioning his methods,
including Rick Caine and Debbie Melnyk's Manufacturing Dissent.
Moore has hired Al Gore's former press secretary, Chris Lehane, to
help him to deal with "the forces I'm up against".
Guardian Unlimited © Guardian News and Media Limited 2007