In an exclusive interview for EIFF Online, filmmakers Debbie Melnyk and Rick Caine reveal how Michael Moore is Manufacturing Dissent.
In 2002 Canadian filmmakers Debbie Melnyk and Rick Caine were a little world weary. Having just completed a documentary for the BBC on Conrad Black, they decided their next film should celebrate, rather than expose, a public figure.
“We wanted to rinse our palette,” explains Caine of their choice. “We wanted to look at somebody we respected and admired, so we made a shortlist and Michael’s name kept cropping to the top. His name was permanently affixed when he made the Oscar speech.”
Moore’s infamous speech, decrying Bush and the war on Iraq, was typical of the director behind the hugely influential Bowling for Columbine. The co-directors decided to follow Moore’s Great ’04 Slacker Uprising tour, but found it surprisingly difficult to speak to their subject.
“We were surprised when he wouldn’t return our calls or emails, or even acknowledge us through his publicist,” says Melnyk. “I think Michael is very controlling [and] I think he was very nervous about not knowing where it was going to go.”
The frustrations didn’t stop there. Melnyk and Caine were denied access to events, and even ejected from a rally for using fake credentials, a technique Moore himself has used. Such events signalled a turning point in the direction of the film.
"To me, the film is a look at the technique of documentary filmmaking,” says Melnyk. “As we look at Michael Moore, we look at what is truth, what isn’t truth and the manipulation involved.”
While researching, the pair started to uncover many inconsistencies in Moore’s films. In Roger and Me, Moore claims he was denied access to General Motors CEO Roger Smith, yet they discovered transcripts and witnesses to two interviews he conducted with Smith.
Finding willing participants, however, wasn’t always easy.
“People would say one thing on the phone or in a pre-interview, then wouldn’t say it in the interview,” adds Melnyk. “Or we would set up an interview and they would call us at the last minute [and cancel]. These were friends of Michael who were still working with him.”
Manufacturing Dissent is a thoroughly riveting, and disturbing, exposé of Moore’s techniques, but Caine is quick to distance the film from the right-wing backlash against the director.
"We're grateful that Michael raises the issues, but basing our support of him on a flawed populist argument is like saying that Britney Spears is a high selling musician, ergo she's a good musician."
Manufacturing Dissent: Uncovering Michael Moore is screening on Thursday 23 and Friday 24 August at Cineworld.