Michael Moore's Farenheit 9/11 is a box-office smash across America. In early May, when the film premiered at the Cannes Film Festival, Moore's anti-Bush documentary diatribe was stuck in political limbo: financed by Mel Gibson's Icon Productions, which chose not to release it, sold to Miramax Films, which was being stopped from exhibiting it by Miramax's parent company, Disney Studios.
At the Cannes press conference, Moore was asked to trace the path from Icon. "I don't hang out with Mel Gibson....I only know what I was told by my agent, Ari Emmanuel. Icon was the Bowling for Columbine distributor in Australia and New Zealand. They came to us and said they wanted to make the next Michael Moore film. It was a signed deal, negotiated over three months. We were making the movie, then we weren't making the movie. Suddenly, we had to get out.
"Ari was at his Seder dinner, he got a call from Bruce Davey, who runs Icon, asking someone to take over. They had got a call from top Republicans to tell Mel Gibson don't expect to get more invitations to the White House. But Harvey Weinstein was interested, and Miramax immediately said they'd make the deal. I'm completely confident that Miramax will assure that Americans across the board see this film."
Would Moore be pacified if his film debuted on network TV?
"I don't want this shown first on television," Moore said, adamantly. "TV is a passive activity. Going to movies involves sitting in a theatre of strangers having a communal experience, and who are more committed to action than someone lying on a couch drinking beer. When I make any movie, [I try to make] something I'd like to go to on a Friday night, so entertaining people could take a girlfriend, a spouse, eat popcorn, laugh, cry.
"My films are not shown in art theatres but in shopping malls and commercial houses. We polled the audience for Bowling for Columbine: over 70% had never seen a documentary in a theatre before in their lives."
A skeptical journalist who had just watched Farenheit 9/11 queried Moore if there was anything really new in his film?
"I don't think you've heard before American soldiers [who fought in Iraq] talk of their despair, their disillusionment," Moore answered. "You see the first footage of abuse of American detainees in Iraq outside of prison walls. Footage, not photographs. So, there's footage you've never seen before, starting with documents of Bush's military record."
At Cannes, Moore dramatically held up a document featured in the movie, in which the name of a certain James Bath, connected mysteriously with George W. during his National Guard days, has been obliterated. "I can show you the 2000 document and the document in 2004, and he [Bush] or someone at the White House has blackened out the name, James Bath. What were they afraid of? 2000 was pre-9/ll. After 9/ll, they saw a need to take out his name.
"The American people do not like things kept from them. This film will be like Toto pulling the curtain back. The people will be shocked, and act accordingly. Will it influence the election? I hope it influences people to leave the theatre and be good citizens. It's up to them. I'm not a member of the Democratic Party. I don't have a vested interest in electing Democrats. I do have a vested interest in getting our boys and women back from the war.
Moore, sounding the intemperate rhetoric of a 1960s radical, unwound about America in Iraq.
"This is not some noble mission, to free a country, prevent a holocaust. Bush despises our troops, our young people, sending them to a war based on a lie. He's against our troops, putting them on the line for [the business interests] of him and his friends. The lack of character begins with him, Dick Cheney, and Donald Rumsfeld. Fish rots from the top down. On September 11, we had a president asleep at the wheel, we had an attorney general who said, 'I don't want to hear about terrorists.' But they are very good at what they do: 70% of Americans believed there was a connection of Al Queda and Saddam Hussein."
So what difference could Moore's film make? Aren't those who will see it the educated left, who already loathe George W. Bush?
"The problem with our side," Moore said, "is that it tends to vote in less numbers. The right-wing is there at six in the morning, bringing ten people with them."
So maybe that's the real value of Farenheit 9/ll: to motivate the converted to actually go to the polls and prevent Bush's re-election?
"Re-election of George Bush?" Michael Moore smirked. "First you have to get elected."
(Boston Phoenix, June, 2004)