The most interesting part of the premiere of the querulous doc "Manufacturing Dissent," from Toronto-based filmmakers Rick Caine and Debbie Melnyk, was the unusually aggressive Q&A that followed the screening. As heralded in the New York Times in late February, the good-natured Canadians were admirers of their subject, Michael Moore, when they chose him to be the topic of their fourth film, but found him to both be an intractable subject and one with troubling inconsistencies in his public persona and outright falsehoods in his work. Not a popular subject for a left-leaning city (even though the filmmakers themselves are politically liberal), but audience members seemed less put out by the thesis than the approach; the film is, in form, more loyal to its subject than it may have intended. "Manufacturing Dissent" is a documentary in true Moore fashion, narrated by and sometimes featuring Melnyk, augmenting its argument with damning news footage and a chorus of talking head interviews, and landing a few solid blows amidst plenty of cheap shots.
Melnyk and Caine don’t have Moore’s undeniable gift for the entertaining polemic, as well as his less appreciated ability to thread his arguments into a narrative, and "Manufacturing Dissent" wobbles between unflattering unauthorized profile and closer chronological look at the "Fahrenheit 9/11" years. There are plenty of provocative ideas floated: Moore exaggerated his working class hero image (the filmmakers visit the Flint suburb in which he grew up, paying a visit to a fair in the town and talking to a few kids, who deem it "rich"); Moore manipulated his footage (the "Roger & Me" moment in which his mike is cut off at the GW stockholders meeting was apparently faked at another theater); Moore lies (he actually did get an opportunity to question Roger Smith, but left the footage on the cutting room floor and asked others to forget it happened); Moore wants fame and fortune (we get a shot of his expensive house). There are also plenty of strange pettinesses brought up as evidence of…what? Moore’s 80s Michigan alt-weekly didn’t pay the $10 a month it owed for a syndicated rock column! Moore didn’t want to admit to a film critic on Canadian television that his sole narrative effort, "Canadian Bacon," was not very good! When Moore made the leap from his local alt-weekly to the editor-in-chief position at national magazine Mother Jones, he didn’t have enough experience to pull it off!
These moments just muddy an already unclear moral. The slippages and falsehoods amongst Moore’s films are unfortunate, but not a stunning revelation in these days of reality show techniques. That Moore’s films are manipulative is not a new idea either â€” back in 1989, when "Roger & Me" made its US premiere at the New York Film Festival, Vincent Canby observed, gleefully, that "Mr. Moore makes no attempt to be fair." We can’t speak for everyone, but we’ve always regarded Moore’s work as a series of pragmatically entertaining and blatantly one-sided attempts to inflame a passive liberal population. He may be a blowhard, he may be a provocateur, but we don’t think he ever made the claim for being a practitioner of journalistic remove.
As for Moore’s desires for recognition and cash money, well, we also didn’t expect him to be Left Wing Jesus, though maybe others did. As one audience member asked, how are the filmmakers of "Manufacturing Dissent," with its prime marketing hook and built-in audience of Moore haters, any different?
Throughout "Manufacturing Dissent," the filmmakers attempt several times to secure, in person, an interview with Moore, eventually printing out fake business cards to get press access during the 2004 Slacker Uprising tour, and getting thrown out, filming all the while. It’s not the first such twist on "Roger & Me"; Michael Wilson shaped his 2004 documentary "Michael Moore Hates America" around the same idea. The incidents don’t add up to much more than one wondering, well, why the hell would you grant an interview to someone who’s blatantly trying to broadside you? Moore, and Wilson, for that matter, understood that that was the joke.
"Manufacturing Dissent" currently has no US distribution.