'Roger & Me' and sequel coming to PBS

July 06, 1992|By Yardena Arar | Yardena Arar,Los Angeles Daily News

LOS ANGELES -- Michael Moore's contract with Warner Bros. for "Roger & Me," his acclaimed 1989 documentary about the impact of General Motors plant closures in Flint, Mich., contained a number of unusual provisions.

The studio had to give away free tickets to the unemployed. It had to send Flint residents around the country to speak at some of the theaters showing the film. And when it came time to sell the TV rights, Warner Bros. was prohibited from striking a deal with PBS.

The reason for the last restriction had to do with Mr. Moore's desire to get the film out to the widest possible audience. But given the heavy auto-industry advertising presence on network television, Mr. Moore realized "Roger & Me" was unlikely to be acquired by ABC, CBS or NBC.

In fact, it ended up on Home Box Office. But last year, Marc Weiss, executive producer of PBS' "P.O.V.," persuaded Mr. Moore not only to change his mind about the PBS ban but to make a brief sequel as a companion piece.

As a result, "Roger & Me" is scheduled to make its broadcast television debut on the documentary series on Sept. 28, followed by the television premiere of a 20-minute update, "Pets or Meat: The Return to Flint." The timing -- about five weeks before the November presidential election -- is entirely intentional.

"I'm doing this mainly to initiate and spark a discussion about the economy," Mr. Moore said. "I think it should be the No. 1 issue in the election."

Mr. Moore, who now is based in New York, was on hand last week for a special screening of "Pets or Meat" sponsored by Norman Lear's People for the American Way at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

The venue was somewhat ironic in light of the academy's much publicized failure to nominate "Roger & Me," the most financially successful documentary of all time, for a documentary feature Oscar.

"Pets or Meat" will be eligible next year in the documentary short category by virtue of its acceptance at the Toronto Film Festival. Using the same wry narrative he adopted in "Roger & Me," Mr. Moore in "Pets or Meat" revisits several memorable Flint denizens, including the ever-optimistic Steve from the Flint tourist office, Deputy Fred (who now does auto repossessions as well as evictions), and Rhonda the bunny lady, whose business sign inspired the sequel's title.

(Rhonda, by the way, has expanded her menagerie: She now also raises rats and mice as food for other pets. Animal lovers surely will have new cause for outrage in a scene showing one of her rabbits being devoured by a huge snake.)

Mr. Moore even tried to track down Roger Smith, the now-retired GM chairman. Despite the film's generally humorous tone, "It was difficult to go back a couple of years later," Mr. Moore said. "The town was in much worse shape."

He initially had hoped to make a longer sequel, but, "It's television -- we have to fit a two-hour block." Mr. Weiss is trying to convince PBS to follow the "P.O.V." broadcast with a one-hour call-in show with Mr. Moore. "I'd like people to talk about their lives in America in the '90s," Mr. Moore said.

In the winter, Mr. Moore hopes to begin production on his first feature, which he describes as "a lighthearted comedy about the new world order -- a Dr. Strangelove for the '90s."

Mr. Moore, who is co-producing with David Brown ("Jaws," "The Player"), will act in and direct the film from his own screenplay about the military-industrial complex's search for a new enemy in the post-Cold War era. The most promising candidate? Canada.

"It's the second-largest land mass in the world, next to the Soviet Union," Mr. Moore said. "They have a lock on the world's largest supply of party ice . . . and just think of what they can do with Zamboni technology."

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