By Jesse Marx
By Chris Parker
By Jake Rossen
By Jesse Marx
By Michelle LeBow
By Alleen Brown
By Maggie LaMaack
By CP Staff
The Minnesota-based director of Michael Moore Hates America has received a number of death threats since his website announced the project to partisan peace lovers a year ago. So the only thing I can tell you about the circumstances of my meeting last week with Michael Wilson, the doc's understandably reclusive 28-year-old perpetrator, is that it took place at a sports bar somewhere in the northern suburbs. And that Wilson ordered cheese sticks and a "short" Long Island iced tea, which turned out to be rather tall.
That drink isn't the only thing that has been super-sized for this latest, libertarian contestant in the election-year indie-doc sweepstakes. His Mastercard is bursting at the seams, the result of a $200,000 budget not fully covered by the former online porn mogul who invested in the movie after stumbling on Wilson's michaelmoorehatesamerica.com, which has registered millions of hits. Other "big boys," Wilson reports, have been bidding to distribute his digital-video production in a hundred cities and projecting grosses in the mid-seven figures--not counting sales of a DVD that would be out in time for holiday shopping. (A mid-October screening has been scheduled at the SMMASH Film Festival in Excelsior--though Wilson says he'd like to have a "red-carpet" premiere in the metro before then.)
So is Wilson's admittedly Moore-esque film, which documents his unsuccessful attempt to interview the man behind Bowling for Columbine and Fahrenheit 9/11, really worth its distinction as the most hotly anticipated indie ever made by a Minnesota director? Alas, the critic can't say. At press time for this article, I still haven't seen Michael Moore Hates America--not because Wilson is unwilling to show it to me, but because he's been more than a little busy. Just a week before his sold-out world premiere in Dallas (the tickets were snapped up in a single day), Wilson is still scrambling to finish the movie's color correction and sound mix with the help of producers Chris Ohlsen, Curt Johnson, and Carr Hagerman. (The critic, meanwhile, is scrambling to get a review on page 63 of this issue--even if it means flying down to Bushville.)
The boyish, Missouri-born Wilson, who wrote marketing materials for a Minnesota accounting firm after graduating from St. Cloud State in 2001, is being asked to show ID for that tall Long Island--two days before leaving town for interviews with the McLaughlin Group and the BBC. His other job at the moment is getting over a nasty head cold.
City Pages: Your world premiere in Dallas is a big deal. It's at the American Film Renaissance Festival--the "conservative Cannes," they're calling it--on the weekend of September 11. What do you expect?
Michael Wilson: Here's the thing that cracks me up about this flick: Everyone perceives it to be this right-wing conservative rant, and it's just not. When that [news] gets out, it's gonna shock people. People see the title--Michael Moore Hates America--and they freak out. They think, "Well, obviously this guy is some nut job who's trying to destroy Michael Moore." And that's not what the movie is about.
CP: What is it about?
Wilson: Basically, I made this movie because I wanted to stick up for my mom. Remember that scene in Bowling for Columbine where [Moore] tells you about Tamarla Owens? That she was in Michigan's Welfare to Work program, that she had to work two full-time jobs, that she had to travel by bus to get to them, and that she couldn't spend enough quality time with her six-year-old kid, so [her kid] acted out and shot a little girl? It was a national story. But no one in the media went, "Hey, wait a minute--what about this other stuff?" The other stuff was that the kid was living in a crack house because his mother had moved them there; that the gun was stolen; that the gun was traded to the kid's uncle for drugs; that the mother had been in trouble for child abuse and drug abuse; that the kid was extremely aggressive because he had learned in that environment that violence was the answer. Moore ignored all of that. He just cut right to what he wanted for his movie: Welfare to Work--bad. 'Cause Mom can't spend enough time with her kid.
CP: And that offended you.
Wilson: On a very personal level. My mom worked two full-time jobs when I was growing up--and she went to school full-time. And I never shot anybody, you know? We were poor. I grew up in Missouri in a house that was right between the projects and the trailer court. My mom worked really long hours, but she put her job as a mother first, you know? And to me, that's what you do as a parent: You make choices, you're accountable. And [Owens's] accountability is something that Michael Moore just took away. He said, "Nope--you don't have this. It's not your responsibility. Don't worry about it." I started looking at the rest of [Moore's] work, and I discovered that it's a really common theme: He sees America as this shithole full of rich guys and dark, shadowy figures--a place where the chips are always stacked against you. And to me that's the antithesis of America. I see America as a place where anything is possible--because of my mom's hard work and ambition, her drive, her success.