Michael Moore: The unlikely pin-up of the Cannes festival

Satirist and Palme d'Or hopeful

There was a time not so long ago when the buzz in Cannes centred around gun-toting American action heroes such as Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sylvester Stallone. Proof that the mood has changed came on Friday when the one unmitigated sensation in the Festival so far was provided by a portly, baseball-capped film-maker from Michigan and his documentary on the American obsession with guns.

Bowling For Colombine, directed by campaigning film-maker and satirist Michael Moore, is the first documentary to be shown in the official Cannes Competition for 46 years. Despite the opening-night appearance by Woody Allen, whose film Hollywood Ending was received at best politely, Moore has turned out to be Cannes's favourite American. He received a 10-minute ovation in the Festival Palais, with calls of "Michael Moore for President". Speaking breathlessly in his car on the way to Saturday morning's round of promotional interviews, Moore – always inseparable from his trademark baseball cap – says, "I came on the stage and I finally had to start talking, just to get the applause to stop. One of the committee people said it had never been that long. I was walking out of the Palais and someone says, 'It's a premiere.' I said, 'I know it's a premiere.' He says, 'no, the applause – it's a premiere, a record'."

Moore's film investigates America's obsession with gun culture and the constitutional right to bear arms, in the wake of tragedies such as the Colombine High School massacre in Littleton, Colorado and the shooting of a young girl by a six-year-old boy in Moore's own home town of Flint, Michigan. The film begins in Moore's characteristically jokey style. But it becomes increasingly chilling and serious with its analysis of an America in which a lucrative weapons trade is fuelled by what Moore calls a "Culture of Fear", an over-emphasis in the media on coverage of violent crime and in particular the scapegoating of the black community. The film includes sequences in which Moore investigates the civilian Michigan Militia, with which Oklahoma bomber Timothy McVeigh trained, and a bank which offers free guns as an incentive to clients.

He also interviews weapons-obsessed teenagers, including one who admits to manufacturing home-made napalm. Rock star Marilyn Manson, widely accused of being an influence on the Colombine killers, makes a lucid and pithy response to the charge. When asked by Moore what he would say to the Colombine killers, he replies, "I wouldn't say anything. I'd listen."

The film is particularly critical of the National Rifle Association – of which Moore himself, an enthusiastic teenage marksman, is still a member – and of the NRA's spokesman, movie star Charlton Heston, who held controversial meetings in Littleton and Flint shortly after the killings there. The film scores two considerable coups. One is Moore's interview with Heston at the star's home, with Heston visibly embarrassed when asked whether he would apologise to the parents of the girl killed in Flint. The other coup is his unannounced visit to the headquarters of major retailer K-Mart, accompanied by two young men seriously wounded at Colombine. Within hours, Moore obtains an undertaking that K-Mart will cease selling guns and ammunition in their stores.

Moore is arguably America's most visible and popular scourge of corporatism and the right – partly because of his brash personal style and no-bullshit regular-Joe persona. A former editor of political magazine Mother Jones, he rose to fame with his 1989 documentary Roger and Me, which he sold his home to finance. In it he investigated the economic and social effects of General Motors' abandonment of Flint, Michigan. Unexpectedly, it won him a $3m deal with Warner Bros and was a major box-office hit.

Moore further developed his aggressive, often stunt-based satire and doorstepping journalism in two television series, TV Nation and the Emmy-winning The Awful Truth. In the wake of 11 September, his publisher Harper-Collins pressured him to rewrite his satirical book Stupid White Men, which is highly critical of the Bush administration, but Moore – with support from a lobby of American librarians – resisted. The book went on to become a bestseller in the US and Britain.

He confesses to being surprised by his film's Cannes reception, particularly because he never even submitted it for competition. "It says on their website, no documentaries – I was obeying the rules. I was hoping to get a little sidebar screening."

He is optimistic about the film's prospects in the US, where it has just been bought for a reported $3m by distributors United Artists, beating bidders including Miramax and Fine Line. "I think it'll be controversial and provocative. From what I've learned about how my book is being received, there's a lot more people wanting to talk about these things. I'm more optimistic than I've been in a long time. People just think that everyone in America is whacked out on this rise of patriotic fervour."

Moore's next project, he says, is about just that topic. "It's tentatively called Fahrenheit 9.11 – the temperature at which freedom burns. I'm not talking about external terrorists. I'm talking about the people who have taken over the White House and are trying to shred our Constitution."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Ashdown Group: Human Resources Manager

£28000 - £35000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: A successful organisation...

Recruitment Genius: Internal Recruiter - Manufacturing

£20000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Internal Recruiter (manufact...

Ashdown Group: HR Manager (CIPD) - Barking / East Ham - £50-55K

£50000 - £55000 per annum + 25 days holidays & benefits: Ashdown Group: HR Man...

Recruitment Genius: Operations / Project Manager

£40000 - £48000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This software company specialis...

Day In a Page

Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

The Arab Spring reversed

Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

Who is Oliver Bonas?

It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

60 years of Scalextric

Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones
Theme parks continue to draw in thrill-seekers despite the risks - so why are we so addicted?

Why are we addicted to theme parks?

Now that Banksy has unveiled his own dystopian version, Christopher Beanland considers the ups and downs of our endless quest for amusement
Tourism in Iran: The country will soon be opening up again after years of isolation

Iran is opening up again to tourists

After years of isolation, Iran is reopening its embassies abroad. Soon, there'll be the chance for the adventurous to holiday there
10 best PS4 games

10 best PS4 games

Can’t wait for the new round of blockbusters due out this autumn? We played through last year’s offering
Transfer window: Ten things we learnt

Ten things we learnt from the transfer window

Record-breaking spending shows FFP restraint no longer applies
Migrant crisis: UN official Philippe Douste-Blazy reveals the harrowing sights he encountered among refugees arriving on Lampedusa

‘Can we really just turn away?’

Dead bodies, men drowning, women miscarrying – a senior UN figure on the horrors he has witnessed among migrants arriving on Lampedusa, and urges politicians not to underestimate our caring nature
Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger as Isis ravages centuries of history

Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger...

... and not just because of Isis vandalism
Girl on a Plane: An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack

Girl on a Plane

An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack
Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

The author of 'The Day of the Jackal' has revealed he spied for MI6 while a foreign correspondent