CANNES — The 60th Cannes Film Fest got an adrenaline kick with “Sicko” on Saturday, which bowed to an enthusiastic press screening in the morning, followed by an impassioned and witty press conference in which Michael Moore described his movie as “a call to action.”
The documaker told an SRO crowd of international journalists that the U.S. public will not be “hoodwinked” by the Bush administration when it tries to pick apart the film or focus on the Cuba sequence.
He expressed faith that the American people will ignore the attacks on the film and will get the message.
Moore said the insurance companies and the pharmaceutical industry are a scarier and more challenging target than the U.S. administration. Not until the profit motive is taken out of the health care industry will things really change Stateside, he said.
Pic, which had its official screening Saturday at 10 p.m., is being sold internationally by the Weinstein Co., and topper Harvey Weinstein said a few days ago that he expects enormous buyer interest to bubble up here once the film had screened.
While “Fahrenheit 9/11” hit an international nerve about U.S. foreign policy — the pic grossed $220 million worldwide — there had been some pre-Cannes skepticism whether the new film would have appeal beyond the 50 states.
Several western European journalists said after the screening that they thought there would be “considerable” or at least “moderate” interest in their countries to see the movie.
Moore said he was trying to raise larger issues in the movie. “It’s not just about universal health care,” he said. He stressed that the pic is really urging folks in America to ask: “What has happened to us as a people. Where is our soul?”
Several reporters from non-U.S. countries, most of whom seemed impressed by the film and by Moore, asked why he didn’t tackle issues in their countries.
“You don’t need to hear from another American about what you need to do,” Moore said.
Some journalists, mainly from Canada, quibbled with Moore over his “too rosy” description of their health care system. “Sicko” also offered a highly favorable view of the situation in Britain and France, where free health care for all is guaranteed.
Moore responded with equanimity, admitting that those systems too are underfunded or have other flaws but essentially arguing, as the pic implicitly does, that it’s not hard to be better than the U.S. in this area.
He said he’d like to see America take the best parts of each foreign system: “We should steal from them,” he said.
Having won the Palme d’Or three years ago for “Fahrenheit 9/11,” it was inevitable that there would be a hullabaloo on the Croisette about this latest documentary.
The American government obliged by making the matter even more high-profile.
The U.S. Treasury Dept. intervened two weeks ago, sending Moore a letter complaining about his illegal visit to Cuba, where he filmed a sequence for the film. They have given Moore until May 22 to respond about his unauthorized trip to Cuba.
Asked by journalists about how he plans to address his legal problems, Moore said he doesn’t take his legal liability “lightly.” As a result, he has made sure a master duplicate of the film has been taken out of America. Having to do that, he pointed out, is “ridiculous” and “insane,” he said various times during the hour-long Q&A session.
“I’m an American. We should be able to travel freely. This administration flouts the law,” he said resignedly. Still, he thinks the pic will open as planned Stateside on June 29.
Have any 2008 candidates taken up Moore’s rallying cry? None that the filmmaker has seen. “It’s not enough to just say you believe in universal health coverage,” Moore said. “We need a candidate who has the courage to say ‘this (system) has to go.’ ”
The journos had raced directly from the first press screening of the film — it too was SRO — at 8:30 Saturday morning. Those who couldn’t get in huddled around outside TV monitors. Pic itself was received in the morning with rousing applause. Even a few sniffles could be heard up in the balcony area.