TIFF: Michael Moore Teaches America Lessons from Abroad at 'Where to Invade Next' Premiere

Michael Moore

The U.S. military satire helped kick off the 10-day fest.

Oscar-winning doc maker Michael Moore on Thursday took aim at the problems he sees impacting America by looking to Europe and other liberal cultures for answers.

"What if we showed fellow Americans that what we don't have, and others do," Moore said as he discussed his politically charged film Where to Invade Next at its world premiere during the Toronto Film Festival.

His comic doc showed Moore completing "invasions" of mostly European countries to bring back to the U.S. solutions like better elementary school meals from France, free education in Slovenia, decriminalizing drug use as in Portugal and putting more women in power.

Where to Invade Next features Moore in Italy talking to company CEOs about the virtues of giving employees 80 days of paid vacation a-year to relieve stress and increase personal well-being. He also plants his American flag in Finland, where young people have little or no homework and shorter school hours, another lesson for America. 

"They (Finnish students) do better by going to school less," Moore narrates at one point. Elsewhere, the film visits Germany to see ordinary workers that face stress being sent to health spas for all-expense paid stays, again for better health and well-being.

And Moore goes to Norway, where prisoners in minimum and maximum security prisons largely control the institutions that house them alongside apparently friendly guards, and the most jail time for murderers and other serious offenders is 21 years. That includes Anders Behring Breivik, the Norwegian far-right perpetrator of the 2011 attack on island-bound youth. 

Where to Invade Next also takes viewers to Iceland, where bankers were jailed after that country's 2008-11 financial crisis and an increasing number of women hold CEO positions. "The way you treat your neighbors, I would never want to be your neighbor," one Icelandic CEO tells Moore when asked by the filmmaker what her criticism of the U.S. might be.

The U.S. filmmaker said he waited six years to make his latest movie in part out of sense of political futility. "Unless people are going to rise up, I was tired of being the poster boy for Fox News," Moore told the Toronto audience.

But it was the death of his father last year that in part convinced Moore to make another film critique of America. "After Ferguson and Black Lives Matter, I thought it was important to re-enlist and be part of what's happening," he explained.

Moore said he understood conservative critics will say Where to Invade Next cherry-picks from what is good about Europe and other foreign countries, without portraying the many faults, including high unemployment in Italy and Greece's economic meltdown. 

While in production, Moore said his crew referred to the stealth project as "Mike's happy movie, the all solutions and no problems movie." But the filmmaker was quick to insist the U.S. media already devotes itself to criticizing foreign countries.

"The mainstream media does a really good job telling us night after night and day after day how the rest of the world is just so bad, they're horrible, they just suck," Moore insisted. He added Where to Invade Next aims in part to give Americans "the other version" of the rest of the world, and the lessons Americans can learn from other peoples' experiences.

Before the first-ever screening of his film at the Princess of Wales Theater, Moore explained why he kept his doc under-wraps until the recent unveiling: "We were secret about this [movie] but not because we were stealing something from the NSA. I have to say that out loud."

The Oscar-winning director said audiences were likely to have a different sense of his stealth project than what they were to find on viewing. "I think the press out there thinks Edward Snowden is about to walk in," he joked.

The U.S. system satire was first unveiled by its writer-director in July after he shot the film internationally, in surprising secrecy.

Earlier on Thursday, a representative for the doc filmmaker handed out 40 free tickets for the premiere to fans at the festival.

Where to Invade Next is produced by Moore, Tia Lessin and Carl Deal. The 40th annual festival runs Sept. 10-20.