In setting out to make “Michael Moore Hates America,” Michael Wilson wanted to unmask the deceptive and manipulative techniques he believes Moore uses to create his films. And he landed the dean of nonfiction film, Albert Maysles, to back up his case.
But after Maysles discovered he’s in the film — from, he says, reading Daily Variety‘s Oct. 6 review — the legendary documaker now says he never gave permission for Wilson to use footage of him and he supports Moore.
“I thought they were interviewing me because they thought I would say something authentic and informed,” Maysles said. “And I thought that was fine, until I saw it was in a context that I didn’t agree with.”
In the film, Maysles says Moore is “tyrannized by his method, which is to simplify complex ideas.”
For his part, Wilson insists Maysles had given a “verbal release” while filming the interview in June. “I don’t know why he would say that. It’s just not true.”
After later conferring with his lawyer, Wilson said: “The best thing we have is to say no comment. We stand behind the film. If Albert has issues, we’ll deal with him.”
So far, “Michael Moore Hates America” has played at conservative-themed film festivals in Dallas and Los Angeles. It opens Friday in Wilson’s hometown of Minneapolis.
Nonfiction pioneer Maysles — who with his brother David made docs including “Salesman,” “Gimme Shelter” and “Grey Gardens” — insists he made it clear to the younger filmmaker that he didn’t want to be part of the finished film.
“What irritates me so much is that it’s so contrary to the way I work. The only other experience I’ve had like this was when Pauline Kael wrote a review of ‘Gimme Shelter’ in which she assumed that we had staged everything.”
On July 30, an attorney for Maysles wrote Wilson and Curt Johnson, a producer on the doc, “to place you on formal notice that they have granted no permission to use any footage in which Mr. Maysles is depicted or referred to.”
The letter adds, “Mr. Maysles was misled into granting an initial interview with you and your film crew, based on your representations that the interview would be about Michael Moore’s technique, not a personal attack on Michael Moore and his films.”
Wilson said he never received the letter, which apparently was sent by certified mail to Johnson’s office in Dallas.
Wilson said he was inspired to make “Michael Moore Hates America” after watching Moore’s “Bowling for Columbine” and the way he believed it twisted stories to fit Moore’s argument for more gun control. “What Michael Moore does to people in the process of making his movies is hurtful and doesn’t justify the means,” he said.
Maysles admits he hadn’t seen any of Moore’s docs before sitting down for the interview with Wilson. He later watched them and concluded he agreed with Moore’s political message.
Maysles firmly supports Democratic Sen. John Kerry in the presidential race and shot footage on the “Vote for Change” tour with D.A. Pennebaker for the “National Anthem” special that ran on the Sundance Channel.
“It’s propaganda,” Maysles said of “Fahrenheit 9/11.” “I would clearly say that, but it’s good when it’s on your side.”