Michael Moore’s new health care documentary "SiCKO" premiered in Manhattan last night, with an unusual group of movie stars walking the red carpet at the famous Ziegfeld Theatre. The paparazzi were reduced to snapping pictures of non-celebrities, like rescue workers who were denied health care for ailments they contracted on September 11, and dozens of nurses decked out in maroon "SiCKO" scrubs. The nurses are part of a national alliance advocating health care reform, including several labor unions, doctors’ organizations, consumer groups and MoveOn.org, which cosponsored the premiere with The New York Observer.
In his opening remarks, Harvey Weinstein, co-chairman of the company that produced "SiCKO," singled out MoveOn for helping promote and defend Moore’s last documentary, "Fahrenheit 9/11." (The group hosted house parties across the country and urged its members to make the film a "huge hit.") Then Weinstein blasted the timid entertainment industry and overbearing insurance companies that stifle hard-hitting documentaries, telling the audience how Moore persevered in this challenging environment because he is a "true American hero."
Moore told the crowd that production was delayed five months because it was hard to find an insurance company to back an expose of insurance companies. Smaller insurers were worried that suits could put them out of business, Moore explained, but his fact-checkers are so good he’s never been successfully sued.
The audience enthusiastically cheered Moore, and interrupted the film several times with applause, although it doesn’t actually offer many red meat moments. The tone is more "Roger and Me" than "Fahrenheit 9/11," pushing fundamental questions instead of political jeremiads. If we really value the heroes of 9/11, why are some suffering without health care for the injuries they sustained while protecting us? How can this nation celebrate the quarterly returns of HMOs that minimize human life to maximize profits? Why does our public discourse demonize the health care systems of our fellow industrialized democracies, which generally prioritize universal coverage? And in one stretch of aggressive agit-prop that even Karl Rove would admire, Moore asks why the detainees at Guantanamo get better health care than the heroes of 9/11, as he sits among those heroes in a boat along the Cuba-U.S. border.
Vito Valenti, a 9/11 rescue worker with pulmonary fibrosis who dragged his oxygen tank down the red carpet last night, said after the screening that it’s obvious the U.S. needs "to reform health care and get everybody covered." Currently on disability, he volunteers to help 9/11 first responders with the nonprofit FealGood Foundation. Valenti is praying the public will see the film and take action. "It really opened my eyes and I hope to God it opens up America’s eyes," he said. "If other countries can do it, why can’t we?"