It seems as though doc filmmakers have finally struck back at the powerful evil empire known as Michael Moore. A new hard-hitting doc by Canadian husband and wife team Rick Caine and Debbie Melnyck will premier next week at the South by Southwest film festival unoriginally entitled “Manufacturing Dissent.” I say unoriginal, but it is a clever title for a film that reportedly roasts the current king of docs. Moore is despised by many (see book cover at right) but celebrated by many in the doc community for resurrecting the market-beaten non-fiction film genre, breathing new life into cinema that was quickly retiring its material into TV land.
With the enormous success of Roger & Me (1989), Moore launched a lucrative and controversial career that would eventually bring him fame, an Oscar, the world's ear, and lots of cash. The fast-food eating, corporate-bashing, social justice bully brought the debate on cultural violence to America's megaplex with Bowling for Columbine (2002), and fanned the anti-Bush flames (as if that was really needed) with his most conniving and some say deceitful film to date, Fahrenheit 911 (2004), a doc that many American democrats blamed for the re-election of Bush (a claim as ridiculous and as unfounded as the accusations against Ralph Nader for taking lefty votes and therefore allowing Bush in for another term – allegations adeptly overturned in the excellent doc An Unreasonable Man (Henriette Mantel and Steve Skrovan, 2006).
That a couple of Canucks decided to deconstruct the Moore machine is perhaps the most surprising for the man who has, in his films and in several interviews, claimed Canada as his version of a friendlier, safer, and more progressive America. It still isn't clear just how hard-hitting the doc is however, and the only thing to really go on is a few stories on line and of course the trailer. For instance, John Anderson, writing in the NY Times today, says:
“…according to Mr. Caine, 46, an Ohio-born journalist and cameraman, the freewheeling persona cultivated by Mr. Moore, and the free-thinking rhetoric expounded by his friends and associates were not quite what they encountered when they decided to examine his work.”
The filmmakers say that they wanted to investigate the filmmaker and his work. If the end result is really character-driven, then well, many already know the result: Michael Moore is a jerk who – gasp! – manipulates material to form a biased cinematic argument (what defies logic here, is how can the great Errol Morris, who has often dramatized events in his docs, bash Moore for his techniques?). If the film really does explore the artist and the art, then one would hope the end product is more nuanced, complex, ambiguous, and heck, provocative. After all, as Moore's films have shown, a good doc should be a provocative doc.
To watch the trailer of Manufacturing Dissent and to read what every journalist and blogger has started their Moore piece with (“you either love him or hate him…”), visit the slash film site. As for Michael Moore, he's still up to no good, finishing his newest expose on the American health care “system,” with a doc called “Sicko.”