By JOHN FLESHER
The Associated Press
Sunday, June 17, 2007; 2:01 AM
BELLAIRE, Mich. -- Filmmaker Michael Moore gave people in the rural county where he lives an early look at his new film "Sicko" on Saturday, and had some harsh words for critics of the documentary that launched his career.
"Manufacturing Dissent," a film that accuses Moore of dishonesty in the making of his politically charged documentaries, alleges that he interviewed then-General Motors Corp. Chairman Roger Smith, the elusive subject of Moore's 1989 debut "Roger & Me," but left the footage on the cutting room floor.
"Anybody who says that is a (expletive) liar," Moore told The Associated Press in an interview Saturday after a showing of "Sicko," his take on U.S. medicine, in the northern Michigan village of Bellaire.
Moore, who said he hadn't seen "Manufacturing Dissent," acknowledged having had "a good five minutes of back-and forth" with Smith about a company tax abatement at a 1987 shareholders' meeting, as reported by Premiere magazine in 1990. But that was before he began working on "Roger & Me" and had nothing to do with the film, Moore said.
A clip of the meeting appears in "Manufacturing Dissent," released in March. Filmmakers Rick Caine and Debbie Melnyk also interviewed an activist who said he saw Moore interview Smith in 1988 in New York.
Caine and Melnyk say that undercuts the central theme of "Roger & Me" _ Moore's fruitless effort to interview Smith about the effects of GM plant closings in Flint, Moore's hometown. Moore, however, said the film wasn't primarily about interviewing Smith, but getting him to observe the economic devastation in Flint.
"If I'd gotten an interview with him, why wouldn't I put it in the film?" Moore said. "Any exchange with Roger Smith would have been valuable." And GM surely would have publicized any interview in response to the movie, he said.
"I'm so used to listening to the stuff people say about me, it just becomes entertainment for me at this point," Moore said. "It's a fictional character that's been created with the name of Michael Moore."
"Sicko" opens Monday in New York and two nights later in Washington before hitting screens nationwide June 29, but Moore gave Bellaire, a tourist village about 250 miles north of Detroit, a sneak peek as a fundraiser for the Democratic Party in rural Antrim County, where he lives. His wife and the film's executive producer, Kathleen Glynn, is the local party's vice chairwoman.
About 880 people paid $40 per ticket to watch the sardonic and sometimes heart-rending indictment of American health care. For an additional $60, they could attend a party with Moore at a restaurant across the street, where he autographed film posters, surgical gloves and even bandages.
The film chronicles the struggles of ordinary Americans _ some with insurance coverage, others without _ to navigate the health bureaucracy. Portraying insurance companies and supportive politicians in both parties as the villains, Moore contrasts the U.S. system with those of Canada, France and Great Britain, which have government-run programs.
He ends up accompanying a group of rescue workers who became ill after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks to Cuba, where the film describes them as getting better care and cheaper drugs than at home.
The gloomy tone struck a chord with many who attended.
"I feel like Michael Moore's a digger for truth," said Carole Chirgwin of Traverse City.