Movies

Soundbite: Behind the Curtain

Mike Wilson interviewed by Julian Sanchez

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As the documentary form enjoys a renaissance, the time is ripe for a new version of Orson Welles' underrated masterpiece F for Fake, a tricky pseudo-documentary about a forger that revealed the hidden forgery in all filmmaking. That film may be director Mike Wilson's Michael Moore Hates America, a Roger & Me spoof about Wilson's hunt for an interview with the zaftig progressive filmmaker. The movie not only deflates its subject but provides a refreshingly reflective look at what it means to make an honest documentary. Assistant Editor Julian Sanchez spoke with Wilson in January.

Q: How does Michael Moore mislead people?

A: Some people call Moore lazy. He's about as far from lazy as he can be. Look at the bank scene in Bowling for Columbine: He was so meticulous about crafting this story that wasn't true about how you could just walk into a bank, open up an account, and get a gun. When he's interviewing the teller about where the guns are kept, she's saying there's this vault 300 miles away in the upper peninsula of Michigan, and we've got 500 guns in our vault at all times. And what he cut off was: "We have a vault 300 miles away in the upper peninsula of Michigan."

Q: Why use the phrase "hates America"?

A: I would read these great articles in Web sites and magazines about how Michael Moore misled people or had edited this in a dishonest way, and at the end they'd all sort of scream the same shrill thing: "And so, Michael Moore hates America." Which I thought was a disservice to the message that they were conveying, which was that this guy's being dishonest in an effort to both sell tickets and fool his audience. So my use is satiric.

Q: You wrestle with the ethics of your own filmmaking at a few points.

A: There's an interview with Pete Auger, the city manager of [Moore's hometown of] Davison, with whom I hadn't been upfront about what we were doing. Off camera, just as we were leaving, Pete said something like: "You know, a lot of people hear the word documentary, and they think Michael Moore, so they don't want to do anything. But I just trust people." It does become a central point in the film, where you ask: "What am I? What am I doing? And look how easy it is." Maybe that's what happened to Michael Moore. Maybe at some point he fell into the trap of believing the end justifies the means, that it's OK to mislead somebody to get them to say what you need them to say, because the message is more important than how you get the message.

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