In Cannes, Michael Moore is a rock star--mobbed by fans, assailed by cameras and forced to wolf down a plate of pasta between his latest interview and his next live TV appearance.
Moore's documentary "Sicko"--a ferocious attack on the U.S. health care industry--is the talk of the film festival, and he is hot property. Moore caught his breath Monday to tell The Associated Press about the urgent need to reform America's health system, and why he thinks the Bush administration is out to get him.
"It's a government that's funded by the pharmaceutical companies and the health insurers, so I'm not surprised they're coming after me," said Moore, who is being investigated by the U.S. Treasury Department for traveling to Cuba for one of the segments in his film.
"I'm surprised they're doing it so soon. I didn't think they'd want to draw attention to the movie this early on."
Hurriedly eating spaghetti near the end of another whirlwind day, Moore said he was informed he was under investigation just days before the film's premiere here on Saturday. He was given 20 days to respond to questions about the trip, which he took accompanied by a group of sick Americans that included Sept. 11 rescue workers, to Cuba seeking treatment.
"They want me to name names," he said.
Moore says the group went to Cuba only after failing to gain admittance to the U.S. base at Guantanamo Bay--where, he claims, al-Qaida suspects receive better medical care than millions of Americans.
Treasury officials will not comment specifically about Moore's case.
The Cuba segment of the film has drawn most of the attention, but occupies relatively little screen time. Much of "Sicko" consists of moving testimony from Americans who have suffered at the hands of insurance companies, drug firms and HMOs. That includes a mother whose daughter died because the nearest hospital could not treat her, and a man who was told the cost of reattaching his two severed fingers would be $60,000 for the middle finger and $12,000 for the ring finger.
Several interview subjects died before the film was completed.
"It was pretty somber working on this film," Moore said. "We just kept thinking, the only reason this person is dying is because they hold American citizenship. If they lived in Canada or Britain or France, they'd have a chance."
"Sicko" has been rapturously received by audiences and critics at Cannes, where it is screening out of competition. Moore's last film, the President Bush-bashing documentary "Fahrenheit 9/11," won the festival's top prize, the Palme d'Or, in 2004.
The acclaim means Moore's schedule has been frenetic. Almost as soon as he sat down with the AP for a quick supper, he was hauled from the table and bundled into a van--reporter in tow--to head to a live appearance on French television.
As Moore's driver crept along Cannes' packed main drag, tourists and paparazzi thrust cameras at the van's open window until motorcycle police carved a path for the vehicle.
Moore knows that a rockier reception awaits back in the United States.
While Cannes has embraced him, Moore's critics say "Sicko" is overly rosy in its depiction of other countries' systems of socialized medicine. In Canada, happy emergency-room patients speak of short waits and free treatment. A British doctor in the state health system speaks happily of his six-figure income and million-dollar house. French interviewees glow with satisfaction at their quality of care.
"The facts are indisputable," Moore said as the van pulled up at a beachside TV studio. "People in those countries live longer than us, they have a lower infant mortality rate, they spend only half the money that we spend per person on health care and yet they have a healthier nation. There's no part of that picture that I'm painting that is untrue.
"Are there flaws in those systems? Absolutely. But those are flaws for the people in those countries to correct, not me."
And with that, he disappeared into another cheering crowd.
Copyright © 2007 The Associated Press.
PROMETHEUS, Internet Bulletin - News, Politics, Art and Science. Nr. 120, June 2007