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July 10, 2007

Comments

MICHAEL WESTFALL

Your various comments, including Rick Caine’s, relative to my participation in Manufacturing Dissent are quite interesting.

Debbie and Rick are avowed leftists. I am solidly on the right. There are certain issues that we will never agree on. That said, there are many matters on which we do have a meeting of the minds.

Movies are one of the most powerful influences that impact our culture. It took a certain amount of courage for them to use someone from the right in their movie, and the fact that Debbie and Rick wanted to use my material lends itself and exemplifies the importance of the issues that I have championed for 30 years.

In my April 9, 2007 piece, Michael Moore Versus America, I stated that Debbie and Rick did a credible job in questioning Michael Moore’s ethics and failings.

I like both Debbie and Rick. I found them intelligent, honest and passionate about the issues. Our disagreement is not personal, but rather on the big picture relative to the ongoing destruction of America’s auto industry, and how Michael Moore used the work and the ideas of Flint activists back in the 1980’s to jumpstart his career.

How successful or how much celebrity he garners only matters to Moore. What does matter is the bigger historical truth.
My disagreement with Debbie and Rick is that they followed direction from those who weren’t closely connected with the total Flint story beginning back in the 1970’s. They failed to chronicle the bigger picture when they could have so easily. If they had, then their film would have been much more of a contender. Did they show that Moore has a problem with ethics? Yes. Did they miss the bigger story? Yes.
They simply made the mistake of listening to the wrong people. By listening too closely to the wrong people and not understanding the complexity of what was going on in Flint, Debbie and Rick failed to tell the deeper and more important story about how Moore used the Flint story to create himself.
I am not sure what Rick’s definition of a consultant really is. I don’t think that he would deny that my material plays a major part in their movie.

I am sure Rick and Debbie would concur that for months they e-mailed me weekly and sometimes daily, requesting information. They traveled a long distance to visit and discuss the movie for hours at my home. They spent much time going over my documented and archived material at the University of Michigan-Flint Frances Willson Thompson Library. They sent me an autographed copy of Manufacturing Dissent as it was premiering in Texas in March.

I also furnished them critical information including documents showing that Roger Smith was accessible to us. I shared hours of my videos and audiotapes with them, and clips from my tapes were used throughout the movie. Significantly, some of the most central information that I furnished them was smoking guns, which was shockingly compartmentalized and ignored. It verified the bigger story and was just not used.

The big picture story included worker, union, religious and educator activists who were fighting to preserve America’s middle class. It is a story of corporate mismanagement, restructuring of huge American based multi-nationals and weak union leadership. It is about corporate greed and the struggle and demise of Middle America.

Come on, couldn’t the movie have more strongly asked the questions, what is the authentic Flint story, where did Michael Moore come from, what did he really base his career on and does he have any genuine credentials? Is he really on the side of the common man and an expert on everything from politics to health care, or a charlatan multi-millionaire playing out his illusions?

Since he claims to have come from the people, just what did he do? Did he lead any large rallies or demonstrations like the honest hard working activists who had the intestinal fortitude to address the big picture that covered all of the complex issues ranging from automation to global sourcing?

Today, the talking heads that weren’t there are all talking. They are from academia land and the film industry. They base their assumptions on biased opinions, not on historical fact. They only prop up information that supports their opinions and skim over any factual information that runs contrary to their political persuasions or ideologies. They fail to understand that the true history of Michael Moore’s beginning is the essential key to the narration of Moore’s story.

They don’t get the real story, because they are not after it.

Matt Dentler

Hey, AJ, as you may or may not have heard... your movie drew around 200-300 people at its second screening at SXSW. FYI.

Aaron C.

Up until that last graph Mr. Caine was making a reasonable point... but then showed the world that he's a dick. At least I know I can skip the DVD release now.

I will however be at the St. Louis screening of ABOUT A SON in a couple weeks.

Doug Block

Okay, I confess! I used an interview with my deceased mother in 51 Birch Street that was shot about 10 years ago and used it in a different context. (Of course she was dead so I couldn't ask her permission, but still clearly an inexcusable ethics violation.)

Phew, I feel so much better getting that off my conscience, at last! Now, as for her diaries...

Sujewa Ekanayake

Re: "Then we can discuss your ethically challenged principles that allowed you to put together a doc about deceased Kurt Cobain based upon interviews he granted to another under very different circumstances."

Where is the ethical issue in showing Cobain talking about his life in a movie about his life? I don't see a problem. Cobain was talking with a journalist, so these conversations that were used in the movie were not secret, private recordings, so I see no problem with AJ using interviews conducted by a journalist in his very pro-Cobain movie about Cobain.

But I am no "self-proclaimed ethics expert" as Rick Caine comes off here as being, I am only speaking as a fan of the excellent About A Son.

It is also the height of ill judgement to use box office figures/attendance (at one screening no less!) to gauge the total worthiness of an art/indie movie. I am pretty sure About A Son will be (and probably already is) more popular than Manuf. Dis. And I am sure Transformers is gonna be more successful than both those movies. Does that mean Transformers is a lot better/worthy of attention & respect than the other two movies? No, 'cause you can't compare the complete value of an art/entertainment work solely on ticket sales/attendance alone.

I've found AJ's blog to be a great read, whether it is posts about his own movies (of which there are few - really, many other filmmakers - such as myself - promote our own work at our blogs a lot more than AJ does w/ his films here) or posts about the industry & relevant film news in general. Further, I think indie directors promoting their work is totally cool and is very necessary in order to get the movie seen & talked about in a Hollywood $s dominated media & distribution landscape.

It is funny that Caine says that AJ talking about his movie is a negative thing even though Caine is here talking about his own movie.


- Sujewa

Paul


Though I'm not a fan of Michael Moore, he's at least smart enough to know that one can't win when trying to respond to criticism of one's work.

On the other hand, Caine's response -- particularly the last paragraph -- further confirms my belief that m(o)ore often than not, it just creates more of a mess of things.

Oh, for what it's worth, a helluva a lot of people packed into the Durham Civic Center at Full Frame when I saw ABOUT A SON. For those that don't know, that's the "documentary crowd."

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