One item you wouldn’t be able to find in this year’s printed program (like Laundromat and Ford v. Ferrari, it was a last-minute edition) was an anniversary screening of the landmark documentary Roger & Me. A still-relevant look at runaway crony capitalism and the devastating effect it can have on the working class, this last-minute entry to VIFF 1989 was the audience favourite of the festival that year. 30 years later, it’s returned to the west coast along with the man himself: Michael Moore.
The legendary filmmaker was greeted with a rousing standing ovation as he arrived to give the film’s intro where he revealed that this would be the first time in years that he had seen his debut work. 90 laugh-filled yet sobering minutes later, he returned to the stage for a post-film Q&A with CBC’s Stephen Quinn where he opened by sharing the heavy effect the screening had on him.
Moore is greeted by CBC host Stephen Quinn
“I’m not ashamed to say that I went the mens room and just cried.” sighed Moore. Seeing his hometown of Flint, Michigan as it was during the late 80s in a time of heavy job losses as GM gradually migrated operations south of the border, he mused that it rather seemed like the “good old days” in comparison to more recent tragedies including the much-covered Flint Drinking Water Crisis. “No one’s been arrested or convicted yet.” he relates in reluctant resignation. “Lead poisoning in children causes permanent irreversible brain damage. There’s no medicine to take, there’s no therapy for it. They are damaged for the rest of their lives.”
It was a rather somber start to the after-film proceedings, but then again there’s always been an baseline of frustration under all the humour of Moore’s several decades of film and TV work. “I learned at an early age that the only way to alleviate anger, despair, and a dark view of the world was to develop a sense of humour, or to drink, or both.” he recalls of his Irish-American upbringing. His unique brand of humour was won him many fans across class and political lines as he shows the plain ridiculousness of public policy and rigging of the system by rich elites. Although wealthy himself, he still goes out of his way to help the little guy and on this day that included migrating the audience to an after-party at the Library Square Public House where the first round was on him.
The Library Square Public House had an unusually busy Saturday Afternoon
Needless to say, most of the audience enthusiastically took him up on the offer. As we all packed in and jockeyed for a word, handshake or pic with the man of the hour (I missed out on the selfie although my girlfriend managed to snag a pic), Moore eventually settled in with a microphone and a supply of endless fries that someone was apparently picking up the tab for and proceeded with the Q&A that had been cut short earlier.
My girlfriend Fiona captures a moment with the man himself
“I always went to a lot of movies.” he replied in answer to my query about his mid-career decision to enter filmmaking (he was a magazine editor until his mid-30s). A more comprehensive answer followed that involved mentorship from NY-based documentarian Kevin Rafferty whose Uncle George Bush requested a Camp David screening of the film where another George found the film quite amusing……although that may have just been the cocaine.
Given the politically-charged climate, questions about politics, activism, and elections (both Canadian and American) abounded, but it was the more personal anecdotes that helped keep things grounded. “I’m only going to eat all that when I’m hungry. And when I’m full, I’m gonna stop. That’s IT.” Moore said of his weight loss plan, eschewing planned diets and scale watching. After all “Ice Cream is proof of God’s existence!”
After closing with some remarks about the recent youth climate movement sparked by Greta Thunberg, Michael thanked the crowd and made a hasty retreat to a waiting van although not before some of us were able to wring some last few autographs and photos out of the star. It’s only been his fourth visit to Vancouver, but if his plans to obtain an honorary green card through his family’s Canadian heritage succeed (and I’m certain he’s only half-kidding), we may see more of him yet. Like America, Canada has our social problems as well but as Mike says: “We’re never in the minority, the people with a conscience. It’s a choice on our part whether we choose to operate from love or hate.”
All of Michael’s documentaries are available from the fine folks at Black Dog Video at their convenient Commercial Drive and Cambie Street locations in Vancouver, BC.