Northern Illinois University

NIU Office of Public Affairs

News Release

Contact: Tom Parisi, NIU Office of Public Affairs
(815) 753-3635

April 29, 2003

Oscar winner Michael Moore calls to chat with NIU

DeKalb, Ill.-Northern Illinois University students in a special-topics course on the films of Michael Moore got a telephone call in the middle of class Monday--from the controversial filmmaker himself.

Moore, whose "Bowling for Columbine" won the Academy Award this spring for best documentary, conducted an 80-minute, question-and-answer session on speakerphone with more than 100 students in the class.

Jeffrey Chown and Gary Burns, both professors in the NIU Department of Communication, teach the course. Chown had sent several letters to Moore inviting him to visit the class. Moore couldn't make it, but arranged the telephone discussion. Students have read Moore's books and studied all of his films and TV shows.

"When you first sent me that letter about the class, I was very honored," Moore said. "I'm sorry I was not able to come there in person."

The son of a Flint, Mich. autoworker, Moore first gained acclaim for his 1989 documentary, "Roger & Me," in which he stalked the chairman of General Motors to question him about massive layoffs in Flint. Moore said his roots shape his work. "It's part of being from the working class--we're not very well mannered," he said. But his art comes before his well-known liberal politics. "If I put the politics before the movie…then I think the film will suck."

One student in class talked about the time her father lost his job. "The first time I saw 'Roger and Me,' " she told Moore, "it made me feel like we weren't a family of freaks."

Moore's Oscar-winning film, "Bowling for Columbine," continues to run in movie theaters across the country. It is both a humorous and horrifying look at the American culture of gun violence. "We're better than this as Americans," Moore told the students.

The outspoken Moore has won numerous awards for his films, which also include "Pets or Meat: The Return to Flint," "Canadian Bacon" and "The Big One." He has two TV shows, "TV Nation" and "The Awful Truth," and is the author of two books, "Stupid White Men" and "Downsize This!"

"It would have been ideal for Michael Moore to be in the classroom, but this really was the next best thing," said graduate student George Tuft. "This was the perfect culmination to a really interesting course."

During his conversation with the students, Moore touched on a wide range of topics. Here's a sampling.

  • On filmmaking: Moore confessed that before he began making documentaries, he found them boring.
  • On journalism: Too many reporters "are too afraid to ask the question that really needs to be asked," Moore said. "I'm constantly…risking looking like a jerk."
  • On his controversial Academy Awards speech: Moore expressed no regrets for calling President Bush a "fictitious president" who started a war for "fictitious reasons." The speech was met with boos that Moore said might have been orchestrated. "I made a film about the American culture of violence," he told the students. "I thought (the speech) was completely appropriate."
  • On future projects: The filmmaker intends to "take on the whole healthcare industry." He wants to do a film on corporate America, and he has plans for a feature-length animated film as well.
  • On how to improve the country: "If people would just turn off Jerry Springer, we'd be in better shape."
  • On celebrity: "I've read so much stuff about me that isn't true that it just becomes hilarious."
  • On politics: "I'm tired of watching Martin Sheen (star of TV's "The West Wing") play the pretend president. I'd like to see somebody like him be the real president."
  • On politics and friendships: Moore said he has conservative friends, relatives and co-workers. "I've got a chapter in the next book titled, 'How to Talk to Your Conservative Brother-in-Law.' "
  • On NIU: One student asked Moore whether he'd be willing to wear an NIU cap. "That would be so cool," Moore said. "Send it to me, and the next show I'm on, I'll wear it."