By Andrew McCathie
Cannes : The larger-than-life figure of US filmmaker Michael Moore jetted into Cannes this week stirring up the film festival with a screening Saturday of his latest polemic – a scathing look at the US health service.
Moore told a packed press conference that he could face jail or a hefty fine after taking sick 9/11 volunteer workers to Cuba for health treatment as part of his movie, "Sicko".
"They were abandoned by their government," Moore said.
Indeed, as part of his film Moore sets out the illnesses many of the volunteers have faced since the attacks on the World Trade Center in New York on Sep 11, 2001 and which they say they cannot have addressed adequately under the costly US health system.
Moore, who won Cannes' coveted Palme d'Or prize three years ago for his critically examination of US political life surrounding the Sep 11 attacks and the Iraq war as portrayed in "Fahrenheit 911", said "Sicko" was "a call to action".
With the question of healthcare already emerging as an issue in next year's US presidential campaign, Moore told journalists that what was needed was a candidate who said, "Private health insurance companies have to go."
To make his point about the crippling effect that the high cost of healthcare can have on the lives of average US citizens, Moore said he had donated $12,000 to one of his fiercest critics after he said he was being forced to close his virulent anti-Michael Moore website because of his wife's health bills.
Moore, whose other films include "Roger and Me" as well as "Bowling for Columbine", said he had decided to send the man the money because closing the site and stamping out his views were not part of the US way of life.
He said he planned to telephone the man before the movie's premiere in Cannes Saturday and tell him that he had been the anonymous person who had donated the money to help meet the hospital bills.
In "Sicko", Moore assembles a stream of people to tell their personal horror stories about life under the US healthcare service, including an elderly couple whose massive healthcare debt eventually forced them to move out of their house and into their daughter's basement.
There were also tales about a young man whose health cover was allegedly rejected because he was too thin and a young woman rejected because she was too fat.
In his film, Moore takes his audience on a journey not just around the failings of the US health service, but also around the world comparing the US system with other nations – in neighbouring Canada, France and Britain, which have universal coverage.
But Moore was also forced at the press conference to defend "Sicko" for painting a somewhat rosy picture of how the health service works in other nations, especially in Canada and in particular the somewhat brief waiting hours in public hospitals.
Unlike in his past movies, Moore steps back from confronting the health insurance bosses and laying the complaints before them.
Moore said he wanted to use a different tone to "state things in a different way".
In the meantime Moore is under investigation for possible violations of the US trade embargo restricting travel to Cuba.
But the filmmaker insisted that, as shown in the movie, his original plan had to be to try to take the 9/11 workers to the Guantanamo Bay prison camp where US authorities claimed top medical services had been provided to the inmates, some of whom are suspected of having links to the global terrorist network Al Qaeda.
However, the risks of trying to enter the waters surrounding Guantanamo Bay appeared considerable, so Moore and his group of workers headed to Cuba.
Asked how he thought the US public would react to his movie, Moore told the press conference he believed they would say, "You are telling me that Al Qaeda are receiving better healthcare than those who suffered and died on 9/11."