“I don’t want people who see my films to be scared. I want them to act,” Michael Moore told a post-screening audience last night at an event presented by the Center for Constitutional Rights, Chicken & Egg Pictures and Indies Direct. That’s why, he said, 2009’s “Capitalism: A Love Story” is his last film “until I see that happen. I’m not going to provide entertainment for people who can leave the theater going ‘Right on!'” But taking a break from filmmaking himself hasn’t stopped Moore from supporting his fellow documentarians, including Emily and Sarah Kunstler, whose “William Kunstler: Disturbing the Universe” is on this year’s Oscar shortlist.
The film’s a portrait of the pair’s father, self-described “radical lawyer” William Kunstler, as well as a yearning look back at a turbulent but far more politically active and fiery era. In his career Kunstler represented everyone from the Black Panther Party and the Chicago Seven to more controversial figures, like convicted terrorist El-Sayyid Nosair and members of the Gambino crime family. Yusef Salaam was once one of the latter, one of the five teenagers convicted but years later cleared of the 1989 rape and assault of a jogger in Central Park. Salaam joined Moore and Emily Kunstler on stage after a screening of the film, along with William Kunstler’s widow and the directors’ mother Margaret and the CCR’s Vincent Warren.
“Social justice was religion in our house,” Emily Kunstler said, and it’s a claim that probably rang true for plenty of people in the crowd, which included fellow filmmakers Alex Gibney, Joe Berlinger and “Gasland”‘s Josh Fox. But there was also a sense in the room of the scope of the struggle that involves, of how difficult it has become to engage people and to encourage them to, as Moore hopes, act. Moore mentioned his recent appearance on “Countdown with Keith Olbermann” and the health insurance industry’s desire to “push [him] off a cliff” after “Sicko,” and pointed out that Berlinger is still engaged in a legal battle with Chevron over his film “Crude”: “It becomes incumbent upon all of us to make sure he doesn’t fall down — we’ll raise money to stop this.”
Still, Moore remains optimistic, saying that “my fellow Americans, they get misled, they’re easily swayed” thanks to a lack of education in critical analysis so “they don’t know any better, but when they learn the truth, watch out!” And he still managed to tease Emily Kunstler about what she was planning to wear to the Oscars: “Versace?”