Two weeks ago, controversial documentary filmmaker Michael Moore visited campus to talk with Screen Arts and Cultures students about the 20th anniversary of his breakout film, “Roger & Me.” Since I’m still entertaining my pipe dream of being a Hollywood screenwriter, I attended, hoping Moore would have some special insight into the road from the streets of Flint to the big time. After screening his documentary, which blasts former General Motors CEO Roger Smith for closing assembly plants in Flint, Moore took center stage in Angell Hall Auditorium A for a question-and-answer session. As luck would have it, the microphone was passed to me, and I asked Moore if he had any advice on breaking into the industry.

His answer was simple: make the best damn movie you can make, and if it’s good enough, it will get noticed. Then, standing only 20 feet away from me, Michael Moore looked me in the eye and told me to disregard critics, costs and the inevitable catastrophes and follow my dream. I have to admit, having one of the most iconic Michigan natives in the film industry wish me success meant a lot. But, one obstacle will prevent my conversation with Moore from being one of those moments I tell my grandchildren about.

What could that possibly be? The answer is simple. I hate his guts.

With his multiple documentaries, books and public appearances, Moore has attacked just about all of my political beliefs — corporate autonomy, gun ownership, privatized health care and even capitalism itself. He’s a master of exploitation and deceit. He had no qualms about re-arranging history to better fit his narrative in “Roger & Me,” and his interview with famous actor and former National Rifle Association President Charlton Heston in “Bowling for Columbine” is a lesson in how to take advantage of someone obviously suffering from early symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease.

I came into Moore’s screening with a genuinely open mind. I knew I was the oddball in an audience of college film students that would eat up everything he said. But I hoped that meeting Moore in person would soften my image of him. Surely, his movie persona couldn’t be an accurate representation of the man. I thought I would endure the inevitable bashing of George W. Bush and congressional Republicans and then learn something useful about film.

Honestly, Moore did seem like a nicer guy in person than I thought he would be, and I applaud him for taking time to speak to us. Listening to him, I was getting ready to reverse my opinion of him until one comment confirmed everything about who I had always assumed him to be. A student asked Moore to talk about what had made him optimistic for the future and if there was any hope of an American turnaround from our continuing economic woes. Moore bluntly answered, “No.” He explained that he thought nothing could stop America’s downfall, and that we were all pretty much screwed.

I don’t care if you’re talking about President Barack Obama or Ronald Reagan — the sign of a good American leader is unshakable optimism. One of the most basic American values is the belief that no matter how bad things are today, people have the power to make a better tomorrow. Conservatives are traditionally labeled as cold, dispassionate and uncaring. Well, I can tell you with 100-percent certainty that if Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, Sarah Palin or Dick Cheney was speaking to a group of college students, none of them would ever say “give up, because we’re all screwed,” no matter how dire the political climb. In fact, most famous liberals wouldn’t either. It’s because they are American men and women who understand the infinite good this country and its people are capable of doing.

Nodding stupidly as Michael Moore told me to work hard and write my way to success, I was struck with an overwhelming feeling of conflict. A man who’d once snuck in to watch movies in the very same Angell Hall auditorium seat I found myself in was telling me that my wildest dreams were possible. Yet, just minutes earlier, he’d informed an audience full of young people that America was dying, and that they were powerless to stop it. Considering Moore is just as wealthy and influential as Roger Smith, Charlton Heston and many of the others he’s lambasted through the years, his hypocrisy was saddening but not unexpected. Sometimes, I guess, appearances aren’t deceiving.

Chris Koslowski can be reached at cskoslow@umich.edu.

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