Michael Moore & Constantin Costa-Gavras

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August 2004

Reference:MSNBC Matt Lauer Interview with Michael Moore, June 2004
What if we could have invited writer Constantin Costa-Gavras to this interview What might that look like? Using Moore's responses to Lauer in the MSNBC interview and Costa Gravas's responses to an interview with Ian Christie at the National Film Theatre on Nov 17, 2003, let's read.
The only editing of Lauer's questions has been to reflect his speaking with two persons instead of one.
Matt Lauer: Gentlemen, The White House and Greek government said of your films: "They are so outrageously false it's not even worth commenting. The 41st President of the United States, the president's father, and the Greek "Colonels" have called you, I think you probably heard this,  "slime balls."
Michael Moore: Have they seen it? Have they seen the film? No. Of course they haven't. I will tell you they haven't seen it. These are un-credible reviews from people who haven't even seen the movie.
Costa Gavras: When I did Z a lot of people said he's a communist so it's normal. And then I did "The Confession", the communists said he's a right-wing person, or he tries to have a balance between both. No, no, for a director a movie is a passion, at least it is for me. And I was able, up until now, to do the movies I would like to make. This is helped a lot thanks to my wife, because she organised my life. I didn't have to make movies just to make money, just to live, which happens to a lot of my colleagues."
Matt Lauer: [To Moore] You accepted the Palm D'Or Award at the Cannes Film Festival. It's a huge honor, especially for a film like this. And you said, I think the quote was, I did not set out to make a political film. The art of this, the cinema, comes before the politics.
Moore: That's right. That's absolutely right.
Costa Gavras: You know, I never thought or started saying I'm going to do a 'correct' movie. I did all those movies because they were stories I would like to tell, that touched me deeply, personally and philosophically.
Matt Lauer: [To Moore] I'm amazed you said it with a straight face.
Moore: Why is that, why?
Lauer: Because I think there is politics in every single frame of these movies.
Moore: Oh, of course there is. Don't misunderstand me. There's politics right now in this discussion. There's politics in all aspects of our daily lives.
Costa-Gavras: The idea was to make a movie about that system where the country's democracy stops or is completely controlled by ... lets start from the palace, and then the army, and then even some parts of the justice is part of that system. And then everything is possible.
And what's also extraordinary in that story, because everything is true, there's no fiction in there, except very little things here and there.
Lauer: But you didn't set out to poke a sharp stick in the eye of the Bush administration and the Bush family and you, Constantin, in the eye of the Greek "Colonels?"
Moore: That's part of what I'm doing. But most importantly, listen, if I just wanted to -- if it was just about the politics, if that was my primary motivation, politics, I would, you know, suspend what I'm doing right now and get out on a campaign trail.
Costa-Gavras:  ...the other thing that moved me and moved all of us was that we used to hate the Colonels completely, you know. That's a good motor to go on, hate is good. Love also but hate sometimes is stronger, if it is right. And I was convinced it was right.
Lauer: Some people say that's what you've done. [poked a sharp stick in the eye].
Moore: Or maybe I should be running for office this year. I mean if politics was my main motivation I would be doing politics. But I'm a filmmaker. First and foremost the art has to come before the politics otherwise, you don't get -- the politics don't work.
Costa-Gavras:[Z]  It's not a documentary, that's very clear because you have actors and everybody knows the actors. I didn't like to play with documentary. But it was important to give the impression that people had in that period in Greece, saying what's going to happen, will the judge be strong enough to stay or to continue or what. So I tried to give that feeling.
Lauer: Disney decided they didn't want to distribute it[Farenheit 9/11]. And basically, you accused them of censorship. Why?
Moore: Well, because they had made this movie. I mean for a year they sent me a check every month so I could make this film. And this was all with the intent of, you know, this film's going to be distributed. To find out just weeks before it's supposed to come out, after Disney sends an executive here to New York, sits in my office, watches the movie and he's like, 'whoa,' you know, and then reports back. Then they have a board meeting the next week, and they say, you know, 'No. There's no way we're going to distribute this.'
Costa-Gavras: In the US, for example - because it's the market everybody dreams of - it's still the movie with the biggest score takings for a non-English-speaking movie, for an audience commercially, and the same all over the world. Except that the communist countries didn't accept it, and the extreme right-wing people, the countries with dictatorship, didn't show the movie. But we knew when the system changed, the people were buying Z to show it.
Lauer: It's their right, though. They're a distribution company.
Moore: That's right.
Lauer: You know what? They paid you? The checks cleared and they can look at it and say, you know what? This is not the kind of movie we want to distribute right now. Maybe it's too political. Maybe it won't attract a wide enough audience. It's their right.
Moore: It's their right. Except here's the difference. It's not government censorship. It's censorship by a corporation. And we're at a point now, Matt, where we have fewer and fewer companies owning all our media. I mean here we are at NBC, which just bought Universal, which is owned by GE. As you have fewer and fewer voices in a democracy, in a free society, it's not good to limit the number of voices.
Costa-Gavras: [responding to Ian Christie's remark "I read on the internet recently a rumour that there is a version of[Costa-Gavras's film] Missing which has on the signs the names of American companies removed from the image. Have you ever heard of that? I'm not sure I believe it but..."]  You never know. You know the internet, huh?
Lauer: The Weinstein brothers of Miramax bought the film back. And now Harvey Weinstein is a Democratic organizer. He does fund-raisers for John Kerry.
Moore: Yeah.
Lauer: And you've hired a couple of seasoned Clinton politicos to handle publicity and marketing for the film. So at this stage on, will you concede, it is now a sharply political movie with a very definitive point of view.
Costa-Gavras:"You know, I 'become' Greek, because although I was born in Greece, I left after high school and then basically my tutelage was French. I came from a poor family and, at that time, after the war and after the civil war at the beginning of the '50s in Greece it was very difficult, a lot of censorship, very conservative - not to say worse - government, and so forth.
In France, I was accepted completely. I used to say that if I was in Greece and suppose I was a Greek director, I would not be able to do those movies. And if I had been in the United States, it would be the same. So the only place to make those movies was in France.
Moore: It [Farenheit 9/11] definitely has a point of view, that's absolutely correct. But I'm not a member of the Democratic Party. If you know anything about me, anybody who's followed me, I'm the anti-Democrat.
I have railed against the Democrats for a long time. They have been a weak-kneed, wimpy party that hasn't stood up to the Republicans. They let the working people down across this country. I rallied against Clinton when he was in office. I didn't vote for him in 96. I didn't vote for Gore in 2000. This is not a partisan issue with me, this is not me trying to -
Lauer: Not a personal attack on the Bush family.
Moore: Oh yeah. It's that. If you'd asked the question that way.
Costa-Gavras: ... the movie [CG's most recent film, "Amen"]  is a story set during the Occupation about a Catholic priest and a Protestant German Nazi officer who learned about the camps and tried to inform everybody. The priest is able to go to see the Pope and appeals for help with what's going on.
The Pope says, for the Jews and everybody in the camps, pray for them. And we know today that the Pope never said a word against the ermans, never pronounced the words Jew or concentration camp during those years.
And so the movie is, in a way, about that, about the silence on one hand and about people resisting on the other, because I strongly believe in resistance.
Matt Lauer: There's a disturbing sequence in the film that shows U.S. soldiers, casualties, it has interviews with U.S. soldiers in battle. How did you get that footage?
Moore: From a variety of sources. I also made arrangements with freelancers who were already embedded. I made arrangements.
Lauer: I mean, knowing how hard it was to get embedding privileges prior to the war, under what circumstances did you gain those privileges? Did you misrepresent?
Moore: I'm not going to say how we got in there.
Lauer: Do you think that the soldiers thought they were talking to a film crew that was working with
Moore: Some of them did and some of them didn't.
Lauer: Do you think that's fair?
Moore: Well, I think it's fair that the American people know what's going on.
Costa Gavras: I think the worst thing to happen in this world would be that with regard to television, the state starts to say this is like the army. This is like education, it has to belong to the state, to elected people.
They let it to private people and this is a tragedy I believe, because all the garbage you can see on television. And, of course, that also influences the other media because everybody runs after the audiences, it's the worst thing. Fortunately there are some good ones here and there, not so many but there are some good ones. It's important to look around and try to find them."
Lauer: There some images in your movie of an American soldier taunting and I guess sexually humiliating a detainee. Tell me how you got the footage, and when you got the
Moore: It was shot on December 12, outside of Basra by a freelance journalist. This is out in the field, now. This is not in the prison.
Lauer: So you had your hands on this before the images from Abu Ghraib were made public.
Moore: That's correct.
Lauer: There's a decision to make there, on your part.
Moore: I know. It was a really tough decision. And we're putting the film together and we're trying to decide what should we do here?
Lauer: But a critic would say, hey, send it to the right person a couple of months before these other photos go out and maybe -
Moore: Who's the right person?
Lauer: Send it to the Department of Defense, send it to someone and say, look I've got this, you guys better know about this.
Moore: I'm at a point where I don't trust the mainstream media. I'm like most Americans at this point. We don't trust.
Costa-Gavras:  Oh, we stayed in the apartment the last day of the first screening [his film, Missing] in Washington. The State Department made a huge statement saying we made the same investigations as Mr Gavras but we didn't get the same results.
And then three years ago in The New York Times, in the editorial they said Missing was exactly what Costa Gavras says. It's amazing to have to wait so many years but, of course, one side of Americans didn't like the movie, they said we were communists, all of us.
Moore: You know I've been sitting here for like the last 20 minutes thinking, man, if he would have only asked Bush administration officials these kind of hard questions in the weeks leading up to the war, and then when the war started, maybe there wouldn't be a war.
Because the American people, once given the truth, you know the old saying from Abraham Lincoln, give the people the facts and the Republic will be safe.
Lauer: There is so much political animosity in this country right now, such a deep divide, black and white. And you know the expression, if you're not part of the solution, you're part of the problem? With a movie like this, do you see yourself as part of the solution?
Moore: Oh, I hope so. If I can just -- if I do nothing else but just get people out to vote, regardless who they vote for, if I can get that 50 percent, or part of that 50 percent out that has chosen not to vote, to engage and to come back in and care about what's going on, then I will feel like I've done something important.
Costa-Gavras: [again on his most recent film, Amen]  What happened was there were extreme right-wing people in Paris. They brought a case against us, which we won, they started again and we won again. And that's it.
... it's positive on one hand and on the other hand it can also be very negative, because some people say okay I don't want that, it's too much scandal. I believe for the movies the best way is, you go out, you say I like it or I don't like it, so other people go or they don't go. I think that's the best way. I believe the critics can help but the biggest help for a movie or a play or book or whatever is the people who talk about it - positively is better.
... [In Greece things] have changed absolutely. The major change was the Colonels went away. But since Greece is in Europe, a lot of important things have happened because of the economic health and also because the mentality of the Greeks is getting closer to Europe more and more. Yes, I believe the country has changed completely. And especially from the country I knew as a young man in the '40s, '50s and early '60s.
...The media is a huge problem now in societies. They have to play probably the most important role because every day people try to see what is happening. So they have both an educational and informational role to play. Of course they depend on money and also too much on success and sometimes on politics and politicians and all this, and it's a big problem.
I think the worst thing to happen in this world would be that with regard to television, the state starts to say this is like the army. This is like education, it has to belong to the state, to elected people. They let it to private people and this is a tragedy I believe, because all the garbage you can see on television. And, of course, that also influences the other media because everybody runs after the audiences, it's the worst thing.
Fortunately there are some good ones here and there, not so many but there are some good ones. It's important to look around and try to find them.'s easier to make a small personal movie with a few actors, taking place in few places, than to try to make a bigger movie with much more expense and so forth. And little by little, because you don't have the money, that creates a censorship. But the small-scale approach also creates, sometimes, very extraordinary films.
Arthur Ruger 2004

Arthur & Lietta Ruger 2002-2008. The American Choice is a  political internet journal based in Bay Center, Washington. The views expressed not authored by Arthur or Lietta Ruger are the writers' own and do not necessarily reflect those of The American Choice or SwanDeer Productions. Permission of author required for reprinting original material, and only requests for reprinting a specific item are considered.