Michael Moore is an American filmmaker, author and political commentator. He has produced and directed many documentaries, four of which have made it to the list of the top ten highest grossing documentaries of our time. He has also written material for television and starred in TV shows. He is a big critic of the Iraqi war, American health care system, globalization and large corporations, among others. Documentaries are films that are normally shot in real life or when the subjects involved are caught unawares. This lets the documentary catch real people in real time doing real actions that have not been previously rehearsed for the camera. It is important to note that the people who make documentaries want to bring out the real situations facing the subjects they choose to engage and then show the film as they shot it to the public. This kind of cinematography is a good way to show the public what is really happening around them and thus is the ideal way of capturing any subject for public review or criticism.
Michael Moore has produced many documentaries that have gone ahead to break records in terms of viewership and revenue generation. The number of people who have watched his documentaries is astronomical thus it is only fair to say that he has a huge fun base and his documentaries reach a very large audience. It is important for the people who make documentaries to take into account the fact that they influence the way people look at the subject they touch and should thus be careful at the type of material they include in their documentaries. For this assignment, we will look at two of Moore’s acclaimed documentaries, Roger and Me and Sicko.
In the documentary Roger and Me, Michael Moore follows the economic impact of General Motors closing several auto plants in Michigan. General Motors is a huge company that employed more than 30,000 people in its plant that was in Flint, Michigan. The city of Michigan had thrived over the last decade because of the economic benefits that it was gaining from the presence of the GM plant in the city. There was the obvious benefit to the residents of getting jobs and thus empowering the residents to grow and make their lives better with the salaries from the plant. The city also opened more shops and businesses to cater for the new growth. Infrastructure was improved for the benefit of both the residents and those that came to the city to seek job opportunities and new careers. Then in 1989, the then General Motors CEO, Roger Smith gave the summary action to close down several auto plants in Flint. In the beginning 30,000 people lost their jobs in an instant. To date the number has risen to well over 80,000, besides economically devastating the city. Moore sort to document the impact of this action on the city of Flint.
The documentary Roger and Me first introduces Moore and his family, having been residents of Flint. He interviews some of the former employees of GM and uncovers their deep ntipathy feelings towards their former boss. This is when Moore decides to seek audience with Roger Smith to confront him about the closing of the Flint plants. At the GM headquarters in Detroit, he is barred by the security guards and the company spokesman discredits him for his lack of a business card. He follows Roger Smith to his yatch club and athletics club to no avail.
The documentary clearly catches the emotional impact the closings had on the auto plant workers and brings the audience close to understanding the feelings of the laid off workers. One of the interviewee apparently suffered a nervous breakdown and lives in a mental health facility. The documentary also shows the extent to which the city had decayed by the numerous numbers of similar layoffs that followed in other businesses that suffered from the initial GM layoffs in different ways. People started moving out of the city in search of greener pastures and new lives. The city had become the exact opposite of the dream city it once was. Michael captures the emotions of the laid off workers well enough to make us empathize with them and this documentary won large acclaim from the public for this depiction.
In contrast it was criticized in some quarters in many ways. First and foremost it was not the sole decision of Roger Smith, the GM CEO to close the plants in Flint, rather it was the decision of the board of GM and Roger was just unfortunately the man taxed with implementing the plant closures. Some people would believe all information as raw as it is shown in the documentary without further investigations and rest all the blame on Roger. To be fair he was only doing his job. When he blames the residents of the affluent suburbs like Grand Blanc, he documents them as being rather classist and having naïve attitudes towards the economic hardship that had befallen the city of Flint. The big question we ought to ask ourselves as the audience of this documentary is, besides making us feel sorry for the residents and workers of Flint, what else does the documentary do? Practically nothing, we go on to blame GM but do nothing else.
This documentary would have been the best platform for Michael Moore to educate us on the fact that what happened in Flint could happen anywhere else in the country and cause similar or even worse damage. It is also very possible to educate people on the fact that what befell GM as a company including high production costs and high costs of labor thus driving them out of Flint could happen to any other company anywhere and make them close company plants as in the case of GM. Michael does nothing to make us aware of this facts thus the documentary does not educate the viewers or make any attempts to bring about any social changes in attitude or human behavior during conflict.
Another of Michael’s acclaimed documentaries is Sicko which attempts to bring to the limelight the decay in the health care system in the United States foocusing on health insurance and the pharmaceutical industry. It also sought to compare the for-profit non-universal system in the US with the non-profit universal health care systems of United Kingdom, France, Cuba and Canada. In the documentary Michael follows some patients who are the subjects in this case in their desperate search for quality healthcare. He visits hospitals in the United States where he asks for the honest opinion of the patients on the quality of healthcare they receive. Some cases are horrific and we all feel for the patients. Michael and his crew follow some of the volunteers who had assisted after the 9/11 tragedy and had subsequently suffered from severe respiratory ailments but were denied state funding for their treatment. They went on to Cuba in search of affordable healthcare which they finally got at a very low cost compared to what they would have paid for the same treatment in American hospitals.
We get to see the quality of health care that the people in the United Kingdom and Canada get to enjoy. Healthcare has been and will always be a very delicate topic to touch on since good health and the availability of quality affordable healthcare is fundamental in the life of all human beings. It is important to note that Michael does nothing more than show us how the health sector in the United States is a mess compared to the other four countries he visited. He does not give us a way forward as to how or what we can do as a country to get to the point where these countries are in terms of the quality of healthcare. It is sad to see what we want in our country happening successfully in another country and still no one is offering solutions to make us get to where the other country is. Michael should have also in this documentary shown the long road to the achievement of quality healthcare that these countries have had to travel to achieve what they have.
All he does in contrast is make us blame the state for not giving us quality and affordable healthcare. Michael also comes out as a hypocrite since he asks people to take care of each other in spite of their differences but does the exact opposite. In the case of his biggest critic, Jim Kenefick, Michael sends him the US $12,000 he needed to cover the costs of medical treatment for his sick wife “anonymously”, but publicly admits to be the kind donator. Why? We may ask, I think purely for publicity and make Jim keep the anti-Moore website he runs open to enable Moore keep attracting more people curious about his work. Through this website he would be popular thus attract more people to watch his next documentary. Moore is just another “celebrity” looking for any chance to be on TV making news despite the content, make more documentaries all for the money they bring him. His documentaries are just stories without an intention to teach the viewers anything more than they already have seen and read in similar stories on TV and newspapers.