TORONTO — At the premiere of Michael Moore's "Fahrenheit 11/9," the filmmaker's impassioned and portentous documentary about Donald Trump and the conditions that led to his presidency, Moore brought to the stage several Parkland, Florida, students who appear briefly in the film. "Generation of hope!" called out an audience member.
"No, I'm against hope," corrected Moore. "Hope was back then with Obama. I'm for a generation of action."
Moore's latest film is, on the surface, predictable. That the 64-year-old activist filmmaker would turn his camera on Trump's rise wouldn't surprise anyone. What might is how much he also turns it on Democratic leaders, President Barack Obama and even himself. "This movie is about us as much as it is about Trump," he said in a recent interview as his New York office where he was frantically putting the finishing touches on "Fahrenheit 11/9." Outside a chalkboard quoted Walt Whitman: "Resist much, obey little."
"I want all of us to figure out: What was our role in not stopping this long ago? And who are we as Americans?" Moore says.
But even while Moore finds much to celebrate in the film — the Women's March, the West Virginia teachers union strike, New York congressional candidate Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez — he's plagued by despair. He feels America is hanging tenuously by a thread, and that Trump is one national emergency — real or artificial — away from taking authoritarian control. In scenes that what will surely only enflame his critics, Moore thoroughly considers comparisons of Trump to Hitler, including one in which he plays audio of Trump at a rally over black-and-white video of a Hitler speech.
For Moore, the present moment is that precarious.
"I'm usually quite optimistic that I think a film can have an impact and that we're going to get ourselves out of this, whether it's the Iraq War, whether it's mass shootings, whether it's the collapse of the middle class. If I were completely honest with you, I can't tell you that. This is not like anything we've been through," Moore says, scratching his head beneath his ball cap. "I wonder, in the new world order of things — including the possibility of a two-term Trump — is this the last film?"
Just as Moore before the election warned liberals that they weren't taking Trump seriously enough, "Fahrenheit 11/9" is an urgent call to action. "This is beyond voting to me," he says. He wants people not to sleep at night after seeing it. He wants people in the streets.
Film critics in Toronto largely hailed it as Moore's most vital film in years, and a "much needed punch in the gut," though others wondered if his Hitler rhetoric wasn't too extreme. More conservative reaction from outside the left-leaning movie world was, as expected, less enthusiastic. The Drudge Report blared in response to Moore's Hitler comparisons for Trump: "This is war."
The movie, which will be released nationwide Sept. 21, is a kind of sequel to Moore's George W. Bush doc, "Fahrenheit 9/11," which still ranks as the top documentary at the box office. The date this time refers to the early morning when Trump was declared the winner of the 2016 election.
Moore reserves some of harshest criticism in "Fahrenheit 11/9" for Obama, whom he says helped pave the way for Trump. Though Moore still considers voting for Obama one of his best days as an American citizen, he says he was crushed when the former president came to his hometown of Flint, Michigan, and tried to pacify the outrage over the water crisis.
And Moore thinks Obama has spent too much time on the sidelines since departing the White House.
"Everything that's good about him should be in play right now," Moore says of Obama. "This sort of retired president, elder statesman — we have no time to lose. He should not want history recording his role right now as silence. History doesn't look kindly on good Germans who were silent."
Obama on Friday made his most critical comments yet on Trump, accusing him of "capitalizing on resentment" and calling on voters to flock to the midterm elections.
But for Moore, Flint's story is a symbol of the poisoning of American democracy. He isn't without regrets of his own. In the film, Moore replays a meeting of his years ago with Trump and Roseanne Barr, notes that Jared Kushner threw a premiere party for his film "Sicko," and that Steve Bannon — who's shown expressing his admiration for Moore's filmmaking, if not his politics — had a hand in distributing the DVD release for one of his films.
"Hitler and Trump are not the same thing. But you are making a foolish mistake if you do not at least take a look at history and the patterns of history and how the manipulation of fear, the manipulation of the public works," says Moore. "I'm not a sky-is-falling person. I don't believe in conspiracy theories. But I am conscious enough to see what's going on. And anyone who's still thinking 'it's not that bad,' 'it's not going to get that bad,' it's time to wake up."