Thursday, July 26, 2007

MIFF Day 1 - Opening Night pt.2

Sicko (Michael Moore, USA, 2007)
This was a great choice of opening night film. Controversial, entertaining, socially and politically relevant, it had people in their seats in animated conversation after the film ended, continuing to the after-party. What more could you want?

Michael Moore is always good value - when he's good he’s good, and when he’s bad, he’s better. A buzz preceded the film and for good reason. No doubt the buzz will grow locally.

Ever since his 1989 debut with Roger and Me, continuing with his TV series The Awful Truth (which screened here some years ago on SBS) and his more recent Bowling for Columbine and Fahrenheit 911, Moore has shown he has a knack for making serious social and political issues accessible and digestible for cinema audiences. Using irony, sarcasm, humour and entertaining visuals along with serious explorations of the truth, he has been credited with a major revival in documentary. So much attention does he command that now a documentary has been made about him: Manufacturing Dissent: Michael Moore and the Media, also screening at MIFF, challenges the methods used by Moore.

The failings of the US health system are reasonably well known – the wealthiest country in the world does not provide adequate care for the health of its citizens to the extent that life expectancy is relatively low (just above Cuba). Some may question how relevant a film about the US health system is to us as Australians? Well, quite a lot, actually. More on this soon.

The film starts off with a few case studies of individuals who have been denied cover by their health insurance companies. Moore’s methodology is similar to that employed in Bowling For Columbine. All his films could be called ‘agenda films’, but like Columbine, there was a lot of investigative work in order to uncover various rorts, bad practices and political conniving.

Hilary Clinton put much effort into promoting a national health scheme in the early days of her husband’s presidency and was subjected to a massive demonisation program by the conservatives that basically killed the idea. “Terrible waiting lists”, “poor standards of health”, “lack of choice of doctor” were various doom and gloom predictions by the Republicans.

Much of the film is spent demonstrating how false this propaganda was. Moore travels to various countries interviewing families, patients and medical staff to get their perspectives on the local health systems. This is where the relevance to Australia comes in. The systems in Canada, England, France and even Cuba are all better than ours – but are strangely similar to what we once had. Under the current government (though certainly not started by it), we are clearly moving in the direction of the US model (and not just in industrial relations). We have much to fear.

There were many profound moments in the film:

  • A young French man who had lived all his adult life in the US but found he had to move back to France when he was injured, in order to get medical treatment.
  • A community of Americans living in France who couldn’t believe how good the health and social welfare system was compared to home (Moore suggests this may be why the US is quick to alienate or denigrate France). One woman was brought to tears when she described the guilt she feels for accepting the benefits that France provides. As someone with a strong attraction to France, this gave me even more reason to want to go there.
  • One of the most profound moments was when a group of 911 volunteer rescue workers travels with Moore to Cuba, and the reception they received from this so-called evil nation. It brought this writer to tears.

There are many details I’d like to relay, but I've got to race out the door for my next MIFF screening. Best you go see this excellent and timely film for yourself.

Sicko screened as part of MIFF's Documentaries. It screens again on Sat 4 August at 9.35pm at the Regent Theatre, and is being released nationally on 9 August.

Opening Night pt.1 / Other MIFF-related posts / MIFF website


Y Kant Goran Rite said...

I haven't seen Sicko, but I really feel that a non-Australian already-sufficiently-hyped film that opens in cinemas around the country in roughly a fortnight was not an ideal choice for a MIFF opener.

Paul Martin said...

Fair comments, Goran. I don't have a problem with it being non-Australian. How many worthy Australian films are around at the moment? At least there was an Australian short films preceding the screening of Sicko. And it was a Melbourne film-maker, with a film set in Bourke St. Mall.

I think the new director was making his mark by not being tied to what's being done in the past.

The fact it has a release on Aug. 9 is perhaps more of an issue, but it doesn't bother me.

Bear in mind that the attendees at opening night are very different to the attendees during the festival. Attending on opening night are: state and federal politicians, sponsors, media personalities, arts personalities, families of the above, etc.

My perception was that there was a real buzz and I think that's psychologically probably an important kick-off for the festival.

Marty said...

I support the idea of having a non-Australian film open MIFF. This hasn't happened since Wonder Boys opened it many years ago. Thank God, I didn't have to endure another 2:37, Little Fish or the worst film everto open a festival, Siam Sunset!! If there are no standout local films then I have no problem with Sicko opening the film. I enjoyed the film but not quite as good as Bowling for Columbine which is his best film to date but entertaining nonetheless. The film is a very easy watch and time flies by.

There is no doubt that the Howard government have tried to push for private health insurance for everyone to take up by penalising those over 30 every year they do not take it up. Even though I do have private health insurance and can easily afford the $80 per month, I still think forcing people to take it up is wrong. At least we have Medicare available for everyone which still makes Australia much better than most countries, especially the US!

Paul Martin said...

I pretty much agree with your comments about the festival, Marty. As I recollect, Bowling For Columbine was my favourite film in the year it got a theatrical release, though I probably rank it differently now. I was impressed with how serious the otherwise cheeky Moore turned out to be.

I think Sicko is up to the same level, though he is probably showing a bit more of his trademark chutzpah, but not as overtly party political as Fahrenheit 911.

No pun intended here, but it's interesting how each of these films shows how sick American society is. The richest country in the world does not provide for its citizens in a way that some of the poorest countries do. The result is we have classes of poverty virtually unseen in other western nations.

I know I've mentioned it earlier, but the relevance to us is that if we continue to acquiesce to the current government, eventually our society will start to look more and more like the US.

I agree that the time flew with the film, Marty, though I thought there was a bit of a flat spot around the visit to Cuba. But then it lifted quite quickly for what was for me the high-point.

I think it's an embarrassment to our industry for a film like Siam Sunset to open a major festival like MIFF.