Michael Moore's New Documentary Dumps on Trump—and His Opponents, Too

(Bloomberg) -- Before the 2016 U.S. election, Michael Moore prophesied that disenfranchised Midwest voters would likely use “the ballot like as an anger-management tool” to help Donald Trump win the presidency. The “election is going to be the biggest f-ck you ever recorded in human history,” he said in the film “Michael Moore in Trumpland.”

In his latest documentary, “Fahrenheit 11/9,” a hodgepodge effort that premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival on Thursday, the activist filmmaker elaborates on his 2016 thesis and sees the beginnings of a generational change that could return some sanity to American politics.

“I’m against hope,” Moore quipped in a discussion on stage after the showing, exactly two months before the U.S. midterms. “Hope was back with Obama.” Now, he said, “What we need is a generation of action.”

As it does each year, TIFF serves as a kind of global zeitgeist-scanner. In 2018, festival organizers say the compendium of more than 340 films reveals themes including troubled youth, people in dislocation, some joy and humor -- and the long shadow cast by Trump.

That makes sense, says Thom Powers, head of the TIFF Docs program. “Two years is a kind of normal gestation period for a documentary maker.”

Steve Bannon

Trump’s impact, he says, is obvious in Errol Morris’s “American Dharma,” a portrait of Steve Bannon, and “Divide and Conquer: The Story of Roger Ailes.” Another is “What Is Democracy?” a wide-lens view of global politics through the ages. Though it was filmed in the run-up to the election, Trump was a kind of “bogeyman in the background” of the film, Powers says.

The Moore film, which is scheduled for general release in North America Sept. 21, posits that much of the U.S. establishment is responsible for the current state of politics. His primary target is Trump himself, who he compares to Adolf Hitler while warning that Americans shouldn’t underestimate the possibility their political system could slide into fascism.

The White House didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment.

The “Fahrenheit 11/9” title is a reference to the date Trump was declared president-elect and is a play on Moore’s doc “Fahrenheit 9/11,” a scathing take on the George W. Bush presidency and the War on Terror.

New Leaders

But Moore, who has targeted Trump for years, also takes jabs at prominent Democrats including Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama and the party’s current congressional leaders. He blames the media for being “played for suckers” by Trump, dumps on the Electoral College process and the presidential primary system in certain states, and attacks Michigan Governor Rick Snyder for, among other things, failing to protect the water supply for the city of Flint. At one point in the film, Moore pulls up to the governor’s mansion in a water truck and sprays the front drive with a huge hose.

Moore, who’s railed against American mores and deficiencies in documentaries, books and TV shows for three decades, sees some hope for more positive change ahead. He highlights the arrival of political outsiders such as Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Richard Ojeda and Rashida Tlaib, who are congressional candidates. He gives a lot of screen time to the student leaders who emerged from the aftermath of the Parkland, Florida school shooting. And he brings forward a former employee of Michigan’s Genesee County, who says in the film she was told by superiors to change data to make the water seem safe in Flint.

Add it all together, and throw in some chuckle-inducing scenes of Moore’s past encounters with Trump and the president’s son-in-law/adviser Jared Kushner, and you end up with an uneven, unfocused film that sometimes feels like it was constructed under duress. Which in a way it was.

“When we were making this film, I said to everyone on the first day, we have to act like we’re in the French Resistance now; the tanks are 20 miles from Paris,” Moore told the Toronto audience. “The sense of urgency for what we’re going through, for what we wanted to do with this film, was profound.”

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