Actor George Clooney once confessed to Oscar-winner Michael Moore that he used the filmmaker's debut Roger & Me as a dating litmus test. Or so Moore told an audience at the Walter Reade Theater in New York, where the hit 1989 documentary had a special screening Tuesday night.
Moore laughed when recalling the story at an event hosted by the Film Society of Lincoln Center, which screened the documentary as part of its lead-up to the 50th anniversary edition of the New York Film Festival in September. The director explained how Clooney shared with him years back that, "I use Roger & Me for dating. By the first or second date, they have to watch [your film]. If they get it, they get a [follow-up] date. If they don't... they don't." Then Moore added rhetorically: "This story will only stay in this room, right?"
Moore gave insight and, not surprisingly, his opinion about Roger & Me and how it figures in the present economic times Tuesday night, and didn't hold back. "We're in some deep shit," Moore said about the condition of the country today compared to when he made Roger & Me for $150K back in '89. "I had hoped that what we have now wouldn't have happened." Moore, who sat through the screening with his wife, said that he hadn't seen the film in years because doing so is personally difficult. He noted today there are only 4,000 GM workers left in Flint, Michigan where Roger is mostly set, compared to 50,000 at the time he made the film. "Five minutes into the film, my wife started crying," he said.
FSLC program director Richard Peña praised Moore — dressed in a brown hoodie and Tribeca Film Festival baseball cap — for ushering in a "golden age" of documentary beginning with Roger & Me which screened at the New York Film Festival in 1989. "I was nobody in the business then," Moore responded. "I was unemployed at the time. We screened it around the same time as Sex, Lies and Videotape was showing. The Warner Bros. people were in the audience that night and saw it receive a standing ovation and they bought it." Roger & Me was the first documentary to hit multiplexes, eventually grossing nearly $8 million worldwide.
"I never liked documentaries growing up, they felt like medicine," Moore said. "I wanted this film to be structured in a way that can be enjoyed with popcorn in a theater, but at the same time, making sure all the facts are in fact — true." Moore added that he takes pride in helping to "kick the door open" for doc filmmakers that have also had success with theatrical releases. But when it comes to making his movies including his blockbuster Fahrenheit 9/11 and Oscar-winner Bowling for Columbine, he said that he finds the root-cause of his films depressing. "I dread making these movies," he said. "When we solicited stories from people for Sicko, it was very emotional. We couldn't help crying."
Now, more than two decades after making his debut, Moore gave himself a pat on the back for Roger & Me, noting the film stood above the rest for him personally. "I wouldn't change a frame of this film," Moore said. "It's probably the favorite of all my films. I was learning how to make a film as I was doing it."
[Photo: Julie Cunnah/Film Society of Lincoln Center]