Feature-length movies that play at the Toronto International Film Festival can broadly be divided into a few categories: those that will be released to theatres within the following five months (i.e. Oscar season); those that will be released to theatres within the next six months to two years; those that skip theatres and, sooner or later, go straight to video; those that never have a life outside of the festival circuit and their region of origin; and those that are never heard from again, anywhere. In this respect, Michael Moore’s Slacker Uprising defies categorization; it is almost certainly the first TIFF feature to wind up being primarily distributed online, available as a free download and stream starting today.
But then its road to TIFF wasn’t entirely conventional, either. At a Mavericks session at TIFF ’06, Moore shared the stage at the Elgin with Borat director Larry Charles for “An Evening With Michael Moore” (not to be confused with their impromptu show at the Ryerson the previous night) during which he showed clips from his two then-in-progress films: Sicko, which he’d been publicly discussing since before he’d even gone into production on it, and another movie called The Great ’04 Slacker Uprising, which no one had heard about until Moore’s TIFF appearance was announced. The excerpts from Sicko (including a fabulous sequence about a Norwegian penal colony that didn’t make the final cut) absolutely killed; the audience was digging the opening of The Great ’04 Slacker Uprising, too, until Moore abruptly cut it off, complaining about the sound. (It seemed fine from where we were sitting.) After trying to show it a second time, he again asked that it be aborted; it wasn’t clear if the issue was with the DVD he had brought or the equipment at the theatre.
No one mentioned the film again, until the next August when it was announced—under the title Captain Mike Across America—for TIFF ’07. We caught it at the Saturday morning screening at the Scotiabank and rather enjoyed it, despite cursing the musical performances that stopped the film dead in its tracks. A “concert film” about Moore’s 2004 tour across American college campuses in an effort to get young people to register to vote (and vote for John Kerry), how much a given person appreciated it had entirely to do with how much that person appreciates Moore. I love Moore, and almost always give him the benefit of the doubt, and so was quite delighted by another vehicle for his outsized persona; this reception was shared by the majority of the audience. Our own Mathew Kumar, however, despised the movie, which was the reception shared by a majority of the press.
Even at the time, Moore wasn’t sure what he’d end up doing with the thing. He and his producer, Harvey Weinstein, attended both screenings to gauge audience reactions (and commercial prospects). During the Q&A, a visiting American begged Moore to release the movie as widely as possible prior to the next election. And that’s more or less what he’s done, albeit in a different form than expected.
According to his own website, Moore recently “told reporters that film industry experts warned him he was giving up as much as $40 million in gross sales” by distributing the film online and bypassing theatres and commercial video. But the Variety review during last year’s TIFF specifically stated that “Theatrical potential is slim, but grassroots circulation of DVDs might prove useful in get-out-the-vote drives for 2008.”
The movie, now retitled simply Slacker Uprising and shorn of five minutes—and possibly with other tweaks—has been available online to Americans and Canadians as of midnight. (Moore only possesses the rights for the US and Canada and, as such, is unable to release it to other territories himself.)
It’s unlikely it will prove to be Moore’s In Rainbows, but that’s not really the point. The point is that, unlike those of us who saw the film at TIFF, you can fast-forward past Joan Baez if you so choose.
“Official Selection” graphic from the Slacker Uprising site.