'Fahrenheit 11/9' U.S. debut puts focus back on Flint

Jacob Carah
Special to The Detroit News
Flint documentary filmmaker Michael Moore addresses the audience during a screening of his new film, "Fahrenheit 11/9" at The Whiting auditorium in Flint on Monday, Sept. 10, 2018.

Flint turned out Monday for the U.S. debut of the latest film by renowned documentary filmmaker Michael Moore. 

Moore is highly critical of the democratic establishment and overall political system of the United States in the documentary, "Fahrenheit 11/9." He also takes aim at Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder. Flint’s water crisis is a major focus of the movie. 

Ariana Hawk, mother of Sincere Smith, the young boy from Flint who at age 2 became the face of the Flint lead water crisis when he appeared on a Time magazine cover in 2016, arrived early. Hawk said she hopes the film should help return the national spotlight to the city, where she says the water crisis hasn't ended.

She and others pushed for greater reinvestment in large-scale infrastructure, including water systems, and more emphasis on the youngest victims of the water crisis, young children, who are most affected by lead exposure when the chemical leached into the city's water pipes during a switch in water sources in 2014.

The audience settles in at The Whiting auditorium in Flint to watch "Fahrenheit 11/9," a new documentary by Michael Moore on Monday, Sept. 10, 2018.

“I hope people see the truth, that people will be able to see this film and understand that people hear are still suffering because of the effects of the water,” Hawk said.

“There are families here that still can’t drink the water, that are still affected by what the water did to them, I know, I’m still living it.” 

Flint resident and water activist Collette Metcalf said she still is suffering from the effects of the water. “Since the crisis, I’ve had Barrett’s esophagus and I can’t do much of any activity longer than 10 minutes without losing my breath, and just had a rare cancerous tumor removed from my breast,” Metcalf said. “We’re still asking for help, we are still hurting here.”

Moore, who arrived late to the premiere at the Whiting theater, struck a defiant tone as the hometown crowd welcomed him.

“There is a process at work here that started a long time ago, its point is to take our democracy away from us,” he said. He said before the lights came down: “We are like the French resistance in the 40s with the tanks rolling into Flint.”

Dr. Lawrence Reynolds, a pediatrician in Flint and a member of Snyder's task force on the Flint crisis, called for continued repairs to the water distribution system.

"There needs to be adequate fiscal and technical staff to carry out the task, and it's the state that needs to provide those funds as soon as possible," Lawrence said.

He said Moore's film "raises attention to the fact that we're organizing our states to the benefit of corporations and not for residents, and if that opens people's minds and they get out and vote, then perhaps we'll see a change." 

Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha, a pediatrician credited with exposing the elevated blood lead levels in Flint children, is featured in the film. Hanna-Attisha said she hopes the movie sends a message  about the needs and future health of residents, particularly to Michigan leaders and the Trump administration. 

Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha attends the screening for Flint documentary filmmaker Michael Moore's new film Farenheit 11/9 at The Whiting auditorium in Flint, Michigan on Monday, September 10, 2018.

A question and answer session after the screening became a study in contrasts between Moore and Hanna-Attisha, with the pediatrician striking a more hopeful tone for Flint's future. 

"If you caught someone in your home poisoning your children, what would you have the right to do? You would stop them by any means necessary," Moore said. "I'm not calling for violence, I'm a pacifist really, but it stuns me as we sit here tonight that he is sitting in the governor's chair and that nothing has happened to him."

With some in the crowd calling out for riots, Hanna-Attisha stepped in and reminded the crowd: "yeah and that never happened because the people of Flint are resilient. When we heard the extent of this crisis, we all had anger, I had anger, but we know the people here are also strong. The kids I take care of are brilliant and strong, and many here knew the path forward was not rioting in the streets and chaos, rather it was rolling up our sleeves."

Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette has filed criminal charges against 15 public officials, including members of Snyder's administration in connection to the water crisis.