I did omit a couple of criticisms voiced elsewhere, and might as well point out why.
North Country Bank. It has been argued that the scene where he buys the rifle at North Country Bank was falsified or staged. The evidence I've found indicates that Moore staged it (only a few sample rifles are at the bank. Weatherbys are expensive guns, $800-15,000, and keeping an inventory in every caliber and grade would cost a fortune, so the bank takes the order, contacts the distributor, and normally the rifles take days or weeks to be shipped in). Whether it was completely falsified (i.e., guns are not delivered at the bank at all) is subject to conflicting arguments, and I haven't yet tracked them to a solid source (a person who can tell me firsthand). Since there are solid arguments that large parts of Columbine were completely falsified, I felt the point that a scene was staged (all I can say with certainty right now) was of far less weight.
One note as to how far the staging may have gone: the bank is in Michigan, and Moore is a resident of New York City. I found a June 6, 1997 article indicating that he'd moved out of Flint and into a $1.2 million apartment in Manhattan, so he was already a resident by the time Bowling was filmed.
The importance? Under the Gun Control Act, transfers to a nonresident of your state are tightly limited. A person who is not a licensed dealer cannot (with a few narrow exceptions, none applicable here) transfer a gun to a resident of different state, period. A licensed dealer can transfer a rifle or shotgun to a nonresident, but only if "the sale, delivery, and receipt fully comply with the legal conditions of sale in both such States." 18 U.S. Code sec. 922(b)(3) [Link -- it's a LONG section of statute, just search for "conditions of"] This requirement is well-known to firearm dealers, and violation is a felony, so they're serious about it. The buyer is also required to produce picture ID to establish his residence.
New York City has some of the strictest gun laws in the nation. One of them makes it illegal to transfer a rifle or shotgun to anyone who does not hold a rifle and shotgun purchase permit. NY Admin. Code sec. 10-303 (Link -- pdf file, p. 12 of download). The permit is supposed to be issued within 60 days of application, although in practice it takes much longer -- e.g., a 2001 comment, " I recently inquired at the Rifle and Shotgun section of the NYPD. The say it now takes up to six months to get the permit, before it was 3-4 months." Source
So (assuming Moore didn't just slip the dealer his old Michigan driver's license, which would constitute two federal felonies and maybe a third), he probably also spent 6 months or so getting a permit, then persuading the Michigan dealer that he had covered all his NYC legal bases, then getting the rifle ordered in -- all before filming a scene designed to show how easy and quick it was for him to get a rifle.
Moore has set up a webpage to reply to (a few) of the criticisms of his truthfulness. One of his replies concerns the bank scene. Click here for a link to his attempted defense, and to my observations on that.
Lockheed-Martin and Nuclear Missiles. Bowling contains a sequence filmed at a Lockheed-Martin manufacturing facility near Columbine. Moore intones that the missiles with their "Pentagon payloads" are trucked through the town "in the middle of the night while the children are asleep." Moore asks whether knowledge that weapons of "mass destruction" were being built nearby might have motivated the Columbine shooters.
After Bowling was released someone checked and found that the Lockheed-Martin plant does not build weapons-type missiles; it makes rockets for launching satellites.
Moore's website has his response:
"[T]he Lockheed rockets now take satellites into outer space. Some of them are weather satellites, some are telecommunications satellites, and some are top secret Pentagon projects (like the ones that are launched as spy satellites and others which are used to direct the launching of the nuclear missiles should the USA ever decide to use them). "
Nice try, Mike.
(1) that some are spy satellites which might be "used to direct the launching" (i.e., because they spot nukes being launched at the United States) is hardly what Moore was suggesting. Quote:
"So you don't think our kids say to themselves, 'Dad goes off to the factory every day, he builds missiles of mass destruction. What's the difference between that mass destruction and the mass destruction over at Columbine High School?'"
(2) One of that plant's major projects was the ultimate in beating swords into plowshares: taking the Titan missiles which originally had carried nuclear warheads, and converting them to launch communications satellites and space exploration units.
I relegate this is a secondary page because I'm still researching issues raised by some email responses. Boeing does make components for the submarine Trident II missile, and I'm still hunting for a purely primary source to establish whether there is any possibility that the Columbine plant has some role. (On his reply page, BTW, Moore says that Boeing made Titan II nukes. This is correct -- but the military Titan IIs were phased out in the early SALT talks, before the Columbine killers were born.)
Staging. Since the Oscar rules recognize that a documentary may stage events so long as the "emphasis is on the truth" rather than fiction (a rather ambiguous balance), I did not include a commentary on that subject. Moore does "stage" a lot of the film. You've got to remember that, while it looks to you as if it "just happened," there's actually a large film crew sitting off to the side. (Moore apparently travelled with the crew and three subordinate producers). There's a hefty camera on tripod, usually a mike dangling overhead, 2-3 sets of lights just out of sight, and cameraman, audio guys, producers, and assistants behind them. So, for example, in the scene where he comforts the school principal, it's being played out in front of a team (and Moore is cautious about moving too far, because the soundman is going to have trouble pursuing with the overhead mike while staying out of the camera's field of view). The bank scene and Walmart scenes are being acted out in the same way. That said, there are a few scenes which stand out in terms of staging.
Dog with gun on back, wounded hunter lying on ground. Dog is calmly moving around -- which he wouldn't be if a hunting rifle had just gone off over his head and blown his eardrums in. "Hunter," who was in fact shot in leg, is lying there quietly. (Actually, the Darwin Award winning hunters had tried to take a photo with a still camera, and did not have a video. Moore is trying to create the impression that this is their video. But the incident did occur, so it's hard to say this "re-enactment" places emphasis on the fiction rather than on fact.
End of Heston interview. Heston walks out. Moore stands on stairs calling to him to look at picture of little girl. Camera switches back and forth, from behind Moore (showing his back and Heston leaving) to in front of Moore (showing his face, with a righteous expression, and picture of the girl). The shots from behind Moore show the stairs in front of him, with no cameraman perched there; this is a "one-camera shot." Click here for details and still images showing there is no place for a second cameraman to hide.
So how does he arrange two angles, one front and one rear, with one camera? He shoots the footage from behind, with his back and Heston leaving. That's for real. After Heston is out of sight, he tells the cameraman to come around to the front and film him from the front, as he poses and supposedly calls out to Heston. Then the two shots are spliced together, to bounce from his face to Heston walking away to his face to Heston, and create the impression that this is all one event filmed from different angles. That is, the scene with him calling to Heston, asking him to come back and see the picture, was probably filmed long after Heston was out of sight and hearing, to add drama (and allow Moore to assume his favorite pose of being the only decent, sensitive, fellow in his film.)
Not to mention his experiment at trying doors in Canada. I'm guessing here, but he doesn't encounter one that is latched, and the people inside do not seem too startled at having a stranger, followed by camera team, barge through their front door without knocking or explaining what is going on. No one even bothers to ask "what's up?" The logical explanation is that he knocked on the door, explained his purpose, got them to sign the release, and then went back to film the supposedly spontaneous event.
That said, the Academy's definition of "documentary" does allow re-enactment and staging, so long as "the emphasis" is on fact rather than fiction, a rather ambiguous standard.
Although we might wonder . . . deduct the staged scenes, and a lot of the movie vanishes. Deduct the fictitious scenes, and most of the non-staged footage vanishes. At this point, we're down to some minutes of stock footage and narration.