Bowling for Columbine, Michael Moore's documentary polemic about weapons-crazy, bloodlusting Americans, began its screening life quite auspiciously for a documentary. It was the first non-fiction film selected for Official Competition at Cannes in almost half a century, since Louis Malle's Le Monde du Silence chronicling underwater's Jacques Cousteau. "I am so appreciative," Moore said at the Cannes press conference last May, following the first screening."We did not send this film in to Cannes for Competition but hoping for a sidebar, or maybe a showing at midnight. When I got a call waking me up, it was my birthday, I couldn't believe what I was hearing on the phone: the first documentary in competition since 1956. I was blown away by that."
More good news: the international press had applauded loudly at Bowling for Columbine's Cannes premiere, enjoying Moore's roast of wild-eyed, anti-gun control Americans obsessed with rifles and handguns, potential snipers and assassins poised across the USA. For every aggressive, violent American, the movie insinuates, there is a pacifist Canadian; and much of Bowling for Columbine is spent making a case for the superiority of our tame, polite, law-abiding neighbors to the North. As Moore alleges, people in the benign city of Toronto don't even bolt their doors.
"I lock my doors," a prominent Toronto film critic challenged Moore. "Others lock their doors. There's less violence in Canada because there's not the quantity of handguns as in the USA. Your poetic license doesn't seem right."
Moore dodged the locked door issue (understandably: his movie stretches the truth about Toronto) to rebut the critic's other belief, that Canadians have less violent crimes than the USA because of strict gun control, not because Canadians are any less inherently violent.
Moore: "That's very Canadian of you. You believe because you don't have the temptation, you don't kill. But I believe that there is something different about you and American DNA. If you get sick in America: fuck you! If you are poor in American: fuck you! We're about beating you down when you are down. State-sponsored terrorism. It's not because you don't have handguns in Canada that you don't kill each other."
Canada is a compassionate country, where tax money goes to the arts, to welfare, to medical expenses. "The American ethic?" Moore asked, rhetorically. "Pull yourself up by your bootstraps! If we reduced the number of handguns in America, we'd have less murders. But we'd still have lots of murders."
A German journalist brought to Moore's attention recent schoolyard killings in his European country. "I wouldn't draw too many conclusions," Moore advised him. "There are always insane people doing insane acts. These don't happen at the same level, and with the consistency they happen in the United States. I'm concerned about European countries becoming like America. The more your governments shift to the right, adapting our policies to beat up on immigrants, the more crime you will have."
Speaking of the ascendant right: actor Charlton Heston, the powerful and popular president of the National Rifle Association (the NRA), is the archvillain of Bowling for Columbine. He's shown delivering callous pro-gun speeches in American cities where children have been shot dead: i.e., Kayla Rolland, 6, in Flint, Michigan. How did Moore and his fellow media detectives, two high school boys who had been wounded at Columbine High, find Heston and lure him to agree to an on-camera interview?
"If I saw me coming, I wouldn't let me in," Moore said, laughing. "For two years Heston had turned me down. But where did he live in LA? One kid said, "Let's get a Star Map and find him.' I said, 'They aren't ever correct. They're bogus to find people. Look here's the home of Brooke Shields and Andre Agassi!' But there was Heston's address. We went there and I rang the bell on the mailbox. Out of it came the voice of Moses! I couldn't believe it. The next day we came for an appointment, and I expected to be blown off. Instead, the gates opened!"
How was Bowling for Columbine financed? "The traditional media don't want voices like mine heard," Moore said. "I realized it would be a very difficult task to raise money because of the subject matter. I decided to go straight to the Canadians and talked to Michael Donovan of Salter Street Films. He immediately said, 'Yes.' It took about five seconds to say 'Yes,' the shortest time ever when I've cried 'Help' for one of my films."
(Boston Phoenix, October, 2002)