June 13, 2007— -- Polarizing -- that's one way to describe the work of filmmaker and activist Michael Moore, whose new film, "Sicko," takes on the U.S. health care system.
"Nightline's" Terry Moran spent a day with the director in Sacramento, Calif., where Moore teamed with the California Nurses Association to hold a rally at the state capitol.
The nurses wore red "Sicko" T-shirts and cheered for Moore as he criticized America's health care system.
"I am honored to be able to be here today to be able to join with you in a very important movement that is already taking place all across this country," he said. "Because the American people are fed up with this broken health care system. And … it's the nurses who are on the front lines of this war. And it is a war. It's a war against greed."
While the group was walking through the state senate chambers, a group of teenagers recognized Moore and immediately swarmed him, shouting things like 'Oh my God!' and 'I love your work!'"
Moore is known for producing films that inspire love and hate, and stir political debate, but he said in some ways he feels like a failure.
"There's a big part of me that feels like a failure, in the sense that I started out by making a film about General Motors to save my hometown of Flint, Mich., and … Flint today is in far worse shape than when I first made the movie," Moore said.
"I made ["Bowling for Columbine"] in the hopes that there wouldn't be anymore school shootings, and look? We've gone through another tragic school shooting. … 'Fahrenheit 9/11'? Bush was re-elected a few months later. You have to understand that there's a part of me that feels like, geez, when are you going to make a movie that can actually get something done? So I'm hoping that this film, 'Sicko' will do just that."
Moore's hope for the film is that it will inspire change and help find a solution to the massive problems facing the U.S. health care system, and said that making the movie inspired him to change his own life and to take better care of himself. He began to diet and exercise, dropping more than 30 pounds during the course of the film's production.
Moore hopes that people who see "Sicko" will realize that the current health care system needs an overhaul and will start a "political movement" of change, but he also said that fixing the health care system isn't strictly a political issue.
"It's not really a political issue," Moore said. "I should say, it's not a partisan issue. It's political in the sense that our laws make it so that people have a difficult time getting the care they should get. Until those laws change I think we're going to have this 'haves and have-nots' society that we have when it comes to health care."
Moore believes that the U.S. needs a universal health care system, and tried to drive home that point by comparing the American system to those around the world. That goal brought Moore and his production team to Cuba, and as a result, Moore has run into trouble with the U.S. government because of the trade embargo with that country.
"The mainstream media has done such a good job of telling us how horrible Castro is and whatever the violations are down there," he said. "I think we all know what the situation is in Cuba. What we don't know is the other side of the story, and that's what I try to fill in. … In my movie you see Cubans getting help whenever they get sick, and that is the truth. The U.N. supports that fact. They have an excellent health care system, probably the best in the Third World."
Most people would say that Moore's films are liberal-leaning, but the director said he doesn't categorize himself as a Democrat or Republican.
"I'm not a Democrat. I'm not a part of the Democratic Party," he said. "My wife, she's the vice chair of the local Democrats up in northern Michigan, where we live. She keeps trying to get me to join. … I have always voted for whoever I thought was the best person."
Moore was widely criticized for the statement he made at the 2003 Academy Awards, saying, "We live in the time where we have fictitious election results that elect a fictitious president." Moore now acknowledges that if he had it to do again, he probably should have said it differently, but he takes issue with those who called his actions un-American.
"What's the crime that I've committed here? Because I first stood on an Oscar stage and said I don't think the president is telling us the truth? That we were being led into war for fictitious reasons? … I can't think of anything more pro-American than standing up and saying our leader is making a mistake. If you think your leader is making a mistake, you should stand up and say something. It is your duty as an American."
In addition to being a filmmaker and an activist, Moore is also a deeply religious man, an Eagle Scout who at one point decided to go to the seminary and become a priest. He said that "Sicko" comes from "a spiritual place."
"I don't like putting my religious beliefs out there," he said. "But I do believe that this film is coming from a very deep place, from a spiritual place in the sense that I believe as a Christian and a Catholic that it is my responsibility to make sure that not only am I covered if something happens to me, but that everyone else is covered. … I belong to the Directors' Guild. I have a great health plan, and I'm going to get help, but 47 million people aren't going to get help. There's something wrong with that. It's very immoral."
"Sicko" contends that people are dying because of the flaws of the current system, and Moore places some of the blame for these failures on insurance and pharmaceutical companies.
"There's no getting around the fact that people are dying in this country as a result of the decisions that get made by these health insurance companies. People are dying in this country because they can't afford the pharmaceuticals because of the price gauging that takes place. … I don't think it's a dirty little secret anymore, I think it's pretty much out in the open."
And what does Moore say to people who tell him he should leave the United States if things are so bad?
"I'm here to stay. It's the country that has to change. I'm not changing. I think there are millions like me who feel the same way," he said. "We're Americans, and the most patriotic thing we can do is to work to make this country a better place. Things are going to have to change, because I'm not leaving. We're going to have to have universal health care for all Americans. I'm not leaving. This war has got to end. I'm not leaving. I'm going to continue my work, to do these things because I believe it is a requirement of me as an American."