Filmmaker Returns to Flint
September 27, 1992

Susan King

In the three years since filmmaker Michael Moore released his documentary "Roger & Me," life has gotten even worse for the citizens of Flint, Mich.

Rhonda Britton, aka the Bunny Lady, has become a mother and filed for bankruptcy protection. She now sells bunnies, rats and mice as food for pet snakes. Deputy Fred has expanded his business from evictions to car repossessions. Though former journalist Moore achieved celebrity status, he is just as mad as hell at General Motors and the U.S. government.

"Pets or Meat: The Return to Flint," Moore's sequel "Roger & Me," premieres on "P. O. V." after a screening of "Roger Me," at 9 p.m. Monday. Both include graphic scenes of rabbit deaths, which some viewers may find difficult to watch.

"Roger & Me" depicted Moore's odyssey to meet General Motors Chairman Roger Smith and persuade him to visit Flint to see firsthand how 80,000 GM layoffs affected the town. The surprise hit of 1989, the documentary was included on more critics' top-10 lists than any other film that year and grossed more than $25 million at the box office.

In an interview from the recent Telluride (Colo.) Film Festival, where "Pets or Meat" was a big hit, Moore talked about his sequel to "Roger & Me."

Q: Did you make 'Pets or Meat" because of the overwhelming response to "Roger & Me"?

A: No. It was something I wanted to do because I am back in Flint, it seems, at least once a month. Every time I go back, something else has closed down, more layoffs have been announced, more statistics are out showing that Flint is far worse than when I made "Roger & Me." There is something very frustrating that you made this film to hopefully help change things and nothing changes. I felt just compelled to put a stop to what I was doing with my next project and go back and spend a month to do this.

Q: Since You made "Pets or Meat, " how much worse have things become in Flint?

A: Over 10,000 more jobs have been eliminated. The Children's Defense Fund two weeks ago released the statistic on the cities that have the worst poverty for children and Flint was in the Top 5. Nearly 50 percent of the children in Flint live in poverty. The FBI statistics last week showed Flint again in the Top 20 cities in the country for the worst crime rate. General Motors has announced that it is going to close the V-8 engine plant in a couple of years in Flint. That has over 4,000 jobs. Then I see it on a personal level with friends and family, people who are hurting, struggling to get by. There is no such thing as job security. One of the most shocking things the last time we were in Flint was I found out my brother-in-law, who is looking for work in Flint and unable to find a steady job there, had been traveling 100 miles west of Flint to Grand Rapids to try and get some construction job. He would go over there on a Monday morning arid then sleep in a tent during the week. This is my brother-in-law! What is going on here?

Q: How has the economic climate changed in this country since "Roger & Me" was released?

A: When it came out, I went on this press tour and I would tell people in all of these cities, "Don't think of this as just Flint. Don't think of this as just a movie. It is actually a coming attraction. What I am showing you in Flint is coming to your town soon. Count on it, because this party that Reagan threw in the 1980s for the rich is going to have to be paid for by the rest of us in the'90s."

Q: Do you think the country is getting angry?

A: Absolutely. Why do you think (Ross) Perot did so well for so long? He was first in the polls and people didn't know anything about him. Why was that? He was their hand grenade that they wanted to lob into the system that had let them down.

Q: The Bunny Lady seems to survive, no matter what happens to her is she a metaphor for what's happening in this country?

A: That is what we thought. The snake devouring the rabbit is pretty much what General Motors has done to the town. The city has shut down her bunny operation for selling meat to humans, so now she has found ways to still sell these rabbits to exotic snake owners. It is incredible. I don't know if I would have thought of that but she has found a way to keep going, and this is how she keeps going.

Q: Do you think most Americans will be able to bounce back from this recession?

A: I don't know. Some people will be able to. Some people have found that drugs and alcohol are a better way to sort of ignore the pain. Others decide to go and torch South Central Los Angeles because it is the only way they can get heard. I think that we have a very dangerous decade in front of us domestically. We all have been raised that the threat was always going to be external. We thought we might be the generation that would see the end of the world. I certainly thought that. Now, that seems to have subsided a little bit arid the real problem is a domestic problem and how do we deal with that?

Copyright 1992 Los Angeles Times-Washington Post Service

 

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