At the culmination of his last muckraking documentary, 2009's "Capitalism: A Love Story," Michael Moore says he was not going to make another film until someone else — a group, a movement, an individual, anyone — stepped up with their own dissonant voice.
The controversial filmmaker seems to have gotten exactly what he wanted with the emergence of the Occupy Wall Street movement.
TheWrap's Steve Pond caught up with the documentarian earlier this week to discuss the protest and what he thinks they mean.
On your website a couple of days ago, you put up the sentence, "You are about to witness the end of 'Capitalism: A Love Story.'" Did you make the connection with that film right away?
I was instantly thrilled that there was finally a response. Not to the movie, but to the greed and corruption of the captains of industry who have overplayed their hands in the last few years.
The first time I went down there, somebody tweeted, "I saw Michael Moore, and there was so much joy on his face that if somebody took a picture, the caption should read, 'Finally!'" And I have been kind of giddy about the grassroots nature of this, and how it's just sprung up out of seemingly nowhere, without organization, without dues-paying members, without political leaders.
At the end of "Capitalism: A Love Story," the last scene is me by myself wrapping crime-scene tape around the New York Stock Exchange, and pulling a Brinks truck up to Goldman Sachs to get our money back.
And I say at the end of the movie, "I'm tired of being alone and sticking my neck out, and I'm not gonna do this anymore. I'm not gonna make another documentary until I see other people doing things." And I've stuck to my word.
It really doesn’t do me or other people any good for me to be the poster boy for Fox News or Rush Limbaugh. It's harder for them to attack a movement, and it's harder for them to attack me if there are a million Michael Moores or a million Joe Blows or whoever. Whose picture are they going to put on the screen to bring out the hate?
But this has happened in ways that I never would have imagined. I would have been happy for just a small response, but this has just exploded. And not just here in New York, but across the country. I mean, I get things every day from people every day from the smallest towns saying "We've started an occupy movement in our little town."
In "Capitalism," there's a scene where Wallace Shawn says, "There are little hints that the unimaginable could occur, which is that people could actually become angry at the wealthy." Did it seem unimaginable at that time?
Yes. But the hints had been around for some time. This assault on the middle class had been taking place since Ronald Reagan fired the air traffic controllers 30 years ago. At the beginning of the movie I describe capitalism as a system of "giving and taking — mostly taking." And I say, "all that was missing was the revolt."
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The most common criticism of the Occupy Wall Street movement is that it doesn't have specific goals. It's unfocused anger, and the participants are not telling us what they're trying to achieve.
Those who are part of the system that has made life miserable for millions of Americans, they don’t understand something that happens when it's not happening within the system. That's why they can't process what they're seeing. To them, it looks like chaos and disorganization and nobody knows what they really want. In truth, everyone down there seems to be very clear about what they want.
When something new happens like this, culturally, politically, socially, those who are the old guard and those who populate the Sunday morning talk shows and those who are the analysts on Fox News and CNN can't wrap their heads around it.
But when you’ve got 50 million people who don’t have health insurance, I can guarantee you that every one of those 50 million can wrap their head around it. When you’ve got 46.2 million living in poverty, I'm going to guess that the majority of those 46.2 million know what this is about. They just don't own cable stations, and they don’t host Sunday morning talk shows.
So what is it about?
There's a shared feeling among people down there that this economic system that we have is unfair, and it's unjust, and it's not democratic. We don’t have a say in how this economy is structured and run. That's at the core of everything else.
That's why the group is not saying one thing, like, "We support Obama's 5.6 percent tax increase on the rich," even though I'm sure most people agree with that. Or, "We support bringing back Glass-Steagall, so there's regulations on Wall Street," though I'm sure everybody supports that.
This group is very much in touch with where the majority of Americas are at. It all seems very clear to me, but because it doesn't fit into the punditocracy dictionary, they don’t understand. They are without a compass. "There's something happening here, and you don’t know what it is."
What do you expect to see accomplished, and what do you want to see accomplished?
The first victory has already been won. It's been an apathy killer. If nothing else happened beyond this — and there will be much more that will happen beyond this — but if nothing did, it's already accomplished something very, very important. It's ended people's apathy and their inability to feel like they can stand up against Wall Street.
These people are worried about it, because they know what they’ve done. They’ve stolen the futures of many of these young people, and people want their future, and they want hope, and they don’t have much hope now. So I think the first thing's already been accomplished.
And what do you see happening next?
We don’t know what the next step is. The next step is we're gonna see what happens. It's kind of like, you know, if you were the person who made "Bonnie and Clyde" or "Easy Rider," or if you were Dylan and you put out your first album. It's so shocking to people. Go back and read the New York Times review of "Dr. Strangelove." They did not know what the hell it was.
If you look at the first news reports form three plus weeks ago, it was just hippies beating on bongo drums, and it was being dismissed. Well, they're not writing those stories anymore.
Do you see any signs that government is sympathetic and ready to help?
Well, earlier today, David Pouffe, Obama's senior advisor, came out and said Obama is on the side of Wall Street protestors. So that's pretty quick. After three weeks, with no organization, no leader, nothing but the will of the people rising up in scores of cities across the country, it's enough for the White House to recognize it and to side with it as best they can.
But this movement is not about endorsing politicians right now. This is about how the politicians have had their time to try and fix this, and it's clear that they're not going to, because they all feed at the same trough on Wall Street.
This is going to go much larger and deeper than "Let's get Senate Bill 2537 passed." People are tired, and they've given up on that. And they're somewhat tired of President Obama, too. I bet most of the people down there voted for him, if they were of voting age at the time, and he's acted too slow, and appeased too many of the Republicans.
That's not what he was elected to do. He was given a mandate to go in there and clean house, and he didn’t clean house. He just tried to rearrange the furniture a little bit, and then he let the Republicans come in and sit on the furniture. Trust me, if they had won, that's not the way they'd have acted. So there's a lot of disappointment with him, but he's got another year. He can change.
You said you weren't going to make another film until the people took action. Now that they have, are you doing another movie?
Yes, I am. But I'm not making a film about this.
What are you making a film about?
I'm not gonna tell you what I'm going to do film-wise, but it will be something that's not being addressed. It will be funny and shocking and hopefully will help move the ball down the field.
And as long as I am one among many … That is why I love going down to Occupy Wall Street. Because I stand there with hundreds as part of this general assembly, and I am one voice. If feels so much better to me to have hundreds of other people sharing in that and saying, "We're all going to put the yoke on our shoulders and carry this forward."
That feels better than standing alone on the Oscar stage being booed off it.
I was standing in the wings of the stage that night, and I saw you come offstage and get a big thank-you from Diane Lane, who presented the award.
Yeah, Diane came up to me, and I felt so bad. I said, "I'm so sorry I dragged you into my mess," and she said, "Oh my god, don’t be sorry, I just got to be a part of history."
So you were there? Help me out, okay? I don't remember a single person booing on the main floor where all the nominees are. But it was deafening, and I thought, "Where is the sound coming from?"
There were definitely boos coming from the audience — but there are three balconies in that theater, so there are lots of people that you just can't see from the stage. And in the back where I was, a few of the stagehands were definitely shouting at you. There were clearly people who were pissed off, and people who were supportive.
Yes, there were people who were applauding. Scorsese was applauding, I could see him. I could see Meryl Streep. I have a visual of that in my head.
And now I'm on the [AMPAS] board of governors. That's a long way to go from being booed off the stage.