In a career that has spanned 26 years, documentary filmmaker Michael Moore has explored the automotive industry (Roger & Me), America's gun culture (Bowling for Columbine, which he won an Oscar for), the 9/11 tragedy (Fahrenheit 9/11), the health care industry (SiCKO) and corporate greed (Capitalism: A Love Story). The filmmaker returns with his first film in six years, the fascinating Where to Invade Next, which was one of the Gala Screenings at AFI Fest in Hollywood last night. The director himself was present to introduce the film at AFI Fest and for a post-screening Q&A, where he admitted that his own films and other documentaries merely present many problems that society faces, while offering no solutions. Where to Invade Next takes a different approach, presenting "no problems, all solutions" to issues faced by the American public, in what may be his best documentary since Bowling for Columbine.
Instead of travelling across America to explore our country's problems, Where to Invade Next takes the filmmaker on a worldwide tour, where he "invades" several countries in an attempt to steal their great ideas to implement them in America. While this approach may be fairly new for the filmmaker, it also marks the return of the light-hearted tone present in his early films like Roger & Me and The Big One. The facts about government systems in other parts of the world are still as shocking and, at times, upsetting, as the details he brought to light in more "serious" films like Bowling for Columbine and Fahrenheit 9/11, but he finds a way to give viewers hope that better approaches to corporate responsibility, the war on drugs and even healthier school lunches are out there. Whether or not the American government will choose to implement these ideas is a different story, of course, but the film is very much guided by a brimming optimism about these ideals that have in fact worked, and brought about much-needed change, instead of bemoaning the state of America's own socio-political system.
Much to the filmmaker's surprise, the MPAA recently handed out an R rating for the film, which he said at the post-screening Q&A was given for violence, nudity and drug use. The "violence" in question is raw footage of New York cops delivering a fatal chokehold to Eric Garner, while the drug use in question came from Portugal residents smoking marijuana, a clip that was shown on a local news channel. The nudity is only present in one brief scene featuring a number of naked Germans entering a hot tub, which helped illustrate how the country's excellent health care system even covers spa visits. The director revealed that he plans on challenging the MPAA's rating, since he believes that teenagers are the most important audience for this film, but those are just a few of the many examples illustrated by the director about how so many different countries have superior systems that we can just "take" for our own means.
For example, in France, students are fed healthy meals prepared by gourmet chefs for their school lunches. In Portugal, drug use has largely been decriminanlized, leading to far less drug-related crime. Finland has one of the best education systems in the world, but guess what? Their students are never assigned any homework, which provides a far less stressful educational environment. Residents of Slovenia are treated to free college, while, in Germany, it is required by law that every company's board of directors must have representation by the actual workers, and not just executives. The film also showcased Norway's incredibly compassionate prison system, Tunisia's constitutional amendment giving all women equal rights, while commending Iceland for prosecuting the bankers that caused the company's economic collapse, and the steps they took to get the country back on the right track.
Fans of Michael Moore's confrontational ways may be a bit disappointed, since we don't see him verbally attack his international hosts as he has often done to corporate and government leaders in previous films. Instead, he learns how each country works, and then tells their residents how things are done in America, which is often met by shock and/or confusion from these ordinary citizens around the world. Will Where to Invade Next become a beacon of hope that will lead to the many changes America so desperately needs? Maybe not today, and probably not tomorrow, but if the filmmaker can successfully appeal the film's R rating, perhaps it will help illuminate what is broken in our country to the important teenage audience, and influence how a new generation of leaders can get things done. Sure, it may be a long shot, but Where to Invade Next is brimming with so many possibilities and an infectious optimism that change is possible, that maybe, just maybe, the problems that ail America can be fixed, with a little bit of help from the rest of the world.
Where to Invade Next hits theaters in limited release on December 23, for an Oscar-qualifying run, before expanding nationwide on January 15. The film was met with critical acclaim after its debut at the Toronto International Film Festival this September, and it's certainly possible that it could be up for Best Documentary when the Oscar nominations are announced in January. Chime in with your thoughts on my review below, or on Twitter @GallagherMW. Are you looking forward to Michael Moore's Where to Invade Next?