MELNYK, DEBBIE – MANUFACTURING DISSENT
WHO CAN BELIEVE MICHAEL ANY MOORE?
The tongue in cheek tagline for the documentary, Manufacturing Dissent, is “It's
never been so hard to get Michael Moore in front of a camera.” It sums up with a
wry smile the experience of filmmakers Debbie Melnyk and her partner Rick Caine
when they tried to make a film profiling their then hero. And while Melnyk is
still adamant that Moore has done a lot to popularise documentaries and elevate
issues for debate, she strongly disapproves of Moore’s methods, she tells Andrew
L. Urban, and wonders how can he be believed.
Debbie Melnyk’s background in journalism has given her a strong sense of how
reportage can take a documentary filmmaker on an unplanned journey. So when she
and her filmmaking partner Rick Caine had finished making a doco about media
mogul Conrad Black, they wanted a new subject, “a palate cleanser” and chose
Michael Moore. “It was the time that Fahrenheit 9/11 was coming out,” says
Melnyk, “and Michael was a fascinating prospect since we were great fans of his
work. We pitched it to CityTV, an MTV-style broadcaster in Canada, and they
"she has had her eyes opened about Michael Moore"
But no sooner had they begun filming, they came across their first and
biggest surprise: Michael Moore went to great lengths to avoid being interviewed
by them. Why?, I ask Melnyk, as we sip Gloria Jeans coffee in a Sydney suburb.
“Maybe he knows the power of the camera … and maybe he likes to be in full
control. And maybe we weren’t high on his list because CityTV doesn’t buy his
films. Friends of ours making a film for Canal + got some time with him, but
then Canal + buys his films …” If that sounds cynical, Melnyk says she has had
her eyes opened about Michael Moore.
“What Michael Moore does is more about publicity for his films than really doing
something for the common good. I didn’t come to that realisation until after we
had finished Manufacturing Dissent and Sicko came out. Watching Sicko was like
déjà vu … once again he’s in Cannes with a film and this time claiming it’s the
Government after him for illegal entry to Cuba. Last time it was Fahrenheit 9/11
and him claiming Disney had pulled out of distributing the film. That’s
something he had been told a year earlier. But now he’s even got the Government
doing his PR for him; brilliant!”
When Melnyk asks if Moore has done any good, she can’t find a positive answer.
“Nothing’s changed. For example, he says proudly he’s helping the nurses, but if
he really wanted change, he’d put money into a foundation to lobby Washington
for change. In America, that’s the way you trigger policy change, not by PR
stunts like giving money to nurses.”
The subjects of Moore documentaries are all valid, says Melnyk, but he doesn’t
need to lie to his audience. “He might do more good just sticking to the truth…”
After presenting Manufacturing Dissent at the Melbourne Film Festival, Melnyk
was interviewed for Nine’s Sunday (aired August 5, 2007). In the interview,
Ellen Fanning questioned Melnyk about one scene in the film where she shows how
she and her crew made their own media passes, using the CityTV logo, in order to
gain entry to a Miuchael Moore press conference. Fanning suggested that this was
the start of “the slippery slide” into the misrepresentations that her film
attacked Moore for. Considering that a) Melnyk shows us what she’s doing and b)
Melnyk had been commissioned by CityTV, the ethics are hardly in question. More
to the point, why did Moore’s sister threaten to keep Melnyk’s driver’s licence?
“The last time I had threats against my ID papers was by the then police state
in East Germany,” she says pointedly.
"a duty to tell the truth"
To Melnyk, journalists and documentarians have a duty to tell the truth, no
matter how the truth impacts on their own politics. “I’m sad to hear stories
from some documentary makers who admit to manipulating material for their films,
no matter how valid. I was distraught to discover, for example, that the makers
of Spellbound – a wonderful film I really loved - had identified the winners of
the spelling bee and then asked them and their families to re-enact scenes for
The upside of Michael Moore’s global prominence is that Manufacturing Dissent is
in high demand around the world, and not just at festivals – the level of
interest in the Moore slipstream creating turbulence among the Left, says Melnyk.
“The early Left is saying yeah, we know this has been going on, but the new Left
defending Michael is saying he’s raising important issues.” The problem for that
view is that its logical conclusion - the ends justify the means – is the very
sentiment the Left abhors when invoked by the Right.
Published August 9, 2007
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Directors Debbie Melnyk, Rick Caine
MICHAEL MOORE INTERVIEW
AUDIO CLIP - Cannes 2007
Australian premeire: Melbourne Film Festival, 2007.
Australian DVD release: September 5, 2007
Documentary filmmakers Debbie Melnyk and Rick Caine had set out to make a
biography of their hero Michael Moore, but to their surprise, they found Moore
unwilling to talk to them. It was left up to Moore's friends, co-workers and
residents of his home town to talk about Moore. In their search for the facts
about Michael, they also discovered a filmmaker who ingeniously manipulates
facts and people to suit his point of view. Do films like Fahrenheit 9/11 really
serve the truth or just create more drama, and do the means justify the ends,
ask the filmmakers. They chase an ever-elusive interview with Moore, facing
obstacles and uncovering hidden and damning truths from opponents, collaborators
and even friends.