Michael Moore's Bowling for Columbine

25th July 2003, Comments 0 comments

The International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam (21 November - 1 December) is honouring American Michael Moore with the screening of his film and television oeuvre, which includes his award-winning latest, the anti-gun Bowling for Columbine.

Revered by the little people, feared by corporations and getting right up Charlton Heston’s gun barrel, it’s America’s favourite rabble rouser Michael Moore whose film Bowling for Columbine officially opens the 15th edition of the annual International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam (IDFA).


Posing the question "are we a nation of gun nuts or just plain nuts?", Bowling for Columbine takes a polemic pot-shot at American gun culture — and the media that supports it.

Written, produced and directed by Moore, the film was the unanimous winner of the Special Jury Prize at this year’s Cannes Film Festival — the first time in 46 years a documentary has been accepted into competition at the festival.

And, since its world première on 17 May 2002 (after which it received a 13-minute standing ovation), it has gone on to receive coveted awards at several notable US and European film festivals. The UK’s Independent wrote: "It’s the ONE film EVERYONE must see this year!"

Arming himself with his own secret weapon — humour — Moore has created an engaging, thought-provoking documentary which uses the 1999 Columbine High School massacre — in which 13 students were murdered — as a starting point. Before the two fellow students responsible carried out their killing spree, they had gone bowling.

The opening scenes see Moore, sporting his trademark baseball cap and glasses, casually open an account in a US bank which offers "more bang for your buck!" Apparently, those who open an account there receive a free rifle.

Moore’s first question on obtaining his new firearm: "Um... do you think it’s a little dangerous handing out guns in a bank?" Later, he crosses the border to Canada to buy bullets over a counter in a Wal-Mart store.

The documentary goes on to explore America’s trigger-happy society — a country in which 11,000 people die annually as a result of gun violence — often throwing up some chilling stories: the murder of a six-year-old girl by a six-year-old boy, or the town of Virgin, Utah, that passed a law requiring all residents to own a gun.

Moore also aims his camera at Charlton Heston in the Oscar-winning actor’s high-profile role as president of the National Rifle Association (NRA). "Chuck" and his fellow fervent pro-gun lobbyists have developed a habit, it seems, of organising rallies on the spot of school shootings before victims have barely been mourned.

Born, rather ironically, in Flint, Michigan, Moore shares the same birthday – 23 April 1954 – with political prisoner Mumia Abu-Jamal, whose release is another cause close to his leftist heart.

Author of 2002 bestseller Stupid White Men… and Other Sorry Excuses for the State of the Nation and creator of mid-late 1990s satirical television series, the Emmy-winning TV Nation and The Awful Truth, Moore made his major breakthrough in 1989 with the documentary Roger & Me.

Made from funds raised by organising neighbourhood bingo games in his house, the film follows the anti-corporate crusader in his fruitless attempts to invite the chairman of General Motors, Roger Smith, out for a few beers.

In his film The Big One (1997), Moore does, however, succeed in securing a face-to-face interview with Nike CEO Phil Knight, famously challenging him on his company’s shoes being produced by children in factories in Indonesia. Just a matter of months after the film’s release, Nike raised the minimum age of workers in factories to 18.

Often called "fact-based motion pictures" rather than "documentaries" for their entertainment value and often staged scenes and stunts, this year’s IDFA is honouring Moore with a special retrospective of his oeuvre.

Alongside Bowling for Columbine (which is also up for the Joris Ivens Award), the festival will be screening The Big One, Roger and Me and episodes from TV Nation and The Awful Truth. Essential viewing.

What: IDFA 2002
When: 21 November-1 December
Where: Various locations around the Leidseplein (festival centre is De Balie, Kleine Gartmanplantsoen 10)
More information: www.idfa.nl, tel: 020 620 1826.

Pip Farquharson

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