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Doc Corner: DOC NYC - Michael Moore's 'Fahrenheit 11/9'

DOC NYC is currently underway in New York and one of the great things is that alongside all the world, American, and New York premieres, the festival includes significant documentary titles from throughout the year. We’re using this opportunity to catch up with the latest from Michael Moore, Fahrenheit 11/9, which screened at the fest and is still in limited release across America.

Love him or loathe him – or probably more likely, sit somewhere in the middle of the two emotions – it’s hard to overstate Michael Moore’s importance to American documentary filmmaking. It’s not often that documentaries become pop culture touchstones and he has several that have become just that. The film that this new title is theoretically a sequel to will likely remain the highest grossing documentary of all time for the foreseeable future of cinema. It is interesting to note, however, that the two biggest zeitgeist-hitting political documentaries of the new century – that would be Fahrenheit 9/11 and An Inconvenient Truth – have floundered at the box office with much-belated sequels. Are audiences simply too bombarded by news that the thought of going to see a two-hour movie about the horrors of modern politics is just too much to bear?

Moore's decision to make a sequel to Fahrenheit 9/11 makes a lot of sense in theory, although watching the final product is a curious experience. Like the earlier film, which The Film Experience has looked back at on multiple occasions, 11/9 doesn’t focus as much on the exploits of its most prominent political target in the President as you may expect. In fact, this movie is less a sequel to Fahrenheit 9/11 and more a grab-bag of Moore’s greatest hits which is where the problem lies. Is it about Donald Trump and how he stoked fear and racism to get into the White House? Is it a sequel to Roger & Me about his hometown of Flint? Is it a sequel to Bowling for Columbine about the rise in school shootings? Is it an attack on the DNC or a campaign ad for Bernie Sanders’ 2020 ambitions? It is all of these things and more and often causes narrative whiplash.

The parts if 11/9 devoted to Trump are the least effective and distract from the much stronger material around them. Partially because he and his Presidency are a part of our daily lives even more so than George W. Bush was in the aftermath of the September 11 terrorist attacks. Partially because Trump’s corruption is too broad to be condensed down to soundbites and obvious observations (white nationalism is barely touched upon for instance; Russia is referenced in passing at the start and never brought back up again; the political shift of Jared Kushner goes for maybe two minutes and yet could be an entire film). Partially because it’s just a flat out miserable experience watching Moore re-litigate the election, although he perhaps suspects audiences aren’t as masochistic as before and keeps this more or less to a supporting role among the movie’s wide collection of themes and issues.

11/9 is never more rousing than when detailing the significantly grass-roots protest culture that has emerged following Trump’s victory. It is never more emotionally focused than when observing the tragedy of Flint’s water crises. Why he didn’t choose to make an entire film about either of these things is beyond me as they are clearly of greater interest to him and are thorny in their intricacies and significant in their national important to deserve their own 125-minute revisited investigations. I don’t think anybody would have begrudged Moore doing that. These segments work so well that when he reverts to his patented tragi-comic take on Trump and Fox News, his attacks on the DNC (warranted or not) and stumping for Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the movie suffers. The heart of Fahrenheit 11/9 is in Flint and in the throng of protesters like school teachers in West Virginia and students following the Parkland massacre.

He does thankfully cool it on the political stunts, though, something that he had not only become famous for but which he had used as the entire backbone of his last traditional documentary Where to Invade Next?. The stunts that there are, however, including showering the drive-way of Michigan’s Governor with Flint water and stealing Erin Brockovich’s “we brought that water in special for your folks” moment are a bit lame. And despite its prominence on the poster, Moore does not return to the President-as-golfer gag, surely even something Moore himself would find too on the nose.

The final product of Fahrenheit 11/9 is a mixed bag. It starts with an eye roll, but ends on the powerful face of Emma Gonzalez as she stands silent at the dais in front of thousands of fellow protesters. As a sequel to Fahrenheit 9/11, Moore’s latest feels dated and tired with Moore going on in his usual manner. But underneath the Trump of it all, there is a story worth telling and it is told in a way that suggests there’s still a little bit of gas left in the Moore tank after all.

Oscar Chances: Moore's last film, the dire Where to Invade Next?, made it onto Oscar's doc finalists shortlist so he clearly still has his fans in the documentary branch, but I'd say it is unlikely.

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Reader Comments (6)

I hate him

November 10, 2018 | Unregistered Commenterhuh

I went to see this on opening night and there maybe 2 , 3 other people in the theater. Contrast that with the opening day of Fahrenheit 9/11 which was sold out and got applause.

Perhaps people don’t want to see a 2 hour expose when they are living this on a daily basis in the news

November 10, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterDavid

Go see Maria by Callas instead!

November 10, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterPeggy Sue

You know something. I have an idea of what we can do with Michael Moore. Kidnap him, put him in a plane with Rush Limbaugh. Drop them both from the plane and have those 2 fat assholes land somewhere near a tribe full of cannibals. That way, they can be used for something good by fed to cannibals.

I know those cannibals must have some kind of oven in their place and I'm sure Moore and Limbaugh would taste real good when they're roasted.

November 10, 2018 | Unregistered Commenterthevoid99

Once I heard about the Bernie/DNC focus, I had no interest in ever seeing it. It's way past time to leave 2016 behind.

November 11, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterSuzanne

I spent most of my adult life in Traverse City, MI, where Michael Moore moved to and eventually started a great film festival there. Like everywhere else, people either love him or hate him in TC.

People who have had working relationships will tell you that his ego is not unlike Trump's. Lots of stories. I know, because I had the displeasure of watching him act like a control freak pain in the ass toward my co-worker, over stuff that should have been delegated to a film festival flunky in the first place.

Moore's done a lot of good, but he's not selfless, by any means.

November 11, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterRick Gould

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