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CANNES, France (Reuters) - Director Michael Moore says the U.S. health care system is driven by greed in his new documentary "SiCKO", and asks of Americans in general, "Where is our soul?"
He also said he could go to jail for taking a group of volunteers suffering ill health after helping in the September 11, 2001 rescue efforts on an unauthorized trip to Cuba, where they received exemplary treatment at virtually no cost.
The controversial film maker is back in Cannes, where he won the film festival's highest honor in 2004 with his anti-Bush polemic "Fahrenheit 9/11".
In "SiCKO" he turns his attention to health, asking why 50 million Americans, 9 million of them children, live without cover, while those that are insured are often driven to poverty by spiraling costs or wrongly refused treatment at all.
But the movie, which has taken Cannes by storm, goes further by portraying a country where the government is more interested in personal profit and protecting big business than caring for its citizens, many of whom cannot afford health insurance.
"I'm trying to explore bigger ideas and bigger issues, and in this case the bigger issue in this film is who are we as a people?" Moore told reporters after a press screening.
"Why do we behave the way we behave? What has become of us? Where is our soul?"
"SiCKO" uses humor and tragic personal stories to get the point across, and had a packed audience variously laughing and in tears. There was loud applause at the end of the two-hour documentary, which is out of the main Cannes competition.
Moore was asked by journalists why he painted such a rosy picture of other countries' health systems, including Britain, France, Canada and Cuba, and the implied criticism is likely to be raised again. But he defended his methods.
"I recognize that there are flaws in your system but that's not for me to correct, that's for you to correct," he told a Canadian reporter.
One section of the film explains how a U.S. man severed the tip of two fingers in an accident and was told he would have to pay $12,000 to re-attach the end of his ring finger, and $60,000 to re-attach that of his index finger.
"Being a hopeless romantic, Rick chose his ring finger," Moore quipped in a typically sardonic voiceover.
It also follows a woman whose young daughter falls seriously ill but who said she was refused admission to a general hospital and instructed to go to a private one instead. By the time she got to the second hospital, it was too late to save the girl.
One of the most controversial passages of the film, due to be released in the United States on June 29, compares health care in the United States to that which Islamic militant suspects receive at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba.
"I think when Americans see this they are not going to focus on Cuba or Fidel Castro," Moore said, referring to the controversy surrounding his trip to Cuba, which has prompted a U.S. government investigation.
"They are going to say to themselves, 'You're telling me that the al Qaeda detainees are receiving better health care, the people that helped participate in the attacks of 9/11 are receiving better health care from us than those who went down to rescue those who suffered and died on 9/11?"
Moore added that he was taking the investigation seriously.
"I'm the one who's personally being investigated and I'm the one who's personally liable for potential fines or jail, so I don't take it lightly."
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