In Cannes, Michael Moore Says '9/11' Faces Exile
By Desson Thomson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, May 17, 2004; Page C01
CANNES, May 16 -- Filmmaker Michael Moore, director of the politically charged "Fahrenheit 9/11," whose July 4 release has been blocked by Walt Disney, publicly lamented Sunday that time is running out for him to show the film in time for the presidential election.
He also suggested that fear of provoking the White House is scaring off any potential new distributors.
The film, which is in competition for the prestigious Golden Palm award here, makes strong contentions about President Bush's links to powerful families in Saudi Arabia, including that of Osama bin Laden, and also criticizes the president's decision to go to war in Iraq.
Although the movie has been sold to markets around the world, its fate in America remains uncertain. Disney, which owns the film through its specialty division, Miramax Film Corp., blocked the film's intended release for July 4.
Speaking at a public round table here, convened by Variety, Moore took issue with recent Disney statements that the studio had dropped the film a year ago. Disney money was flowing to the film until recently, he said. The decision to stop the film's July release, he continued, was made in late April when a "low-level executive" saw it and reported misgivings to Disney chief executive Michael Eisner. Miramax owners Bob and Harvey Weinstein are currently negotiating with Disney to buy the rights and release the picture independently or through a third party.
Reached by phone Saturday, Miramax spokesman Matthew Hiltzik said Miramax "looks forward to an amicable resolution. We're grateful that Walt Disney is offering Bob and Harvey the chance to buy the film."
Should those talks fail, Moore is hoping that other distributors will step in. But his insistence that any present or future distributor must release it on July 4 or, failing that, before the election, has scared off some potential distributors, he said.
Moore took issue with media reports that he was engineering this purported imbroglio for free publicity.
"No filmmaker wants to hear, six weeks before its release, that their distributor is not going to release their movie," he said.
He pointed out that when Disney balked in previous years over releasing two controversial movies -- "Kids" and "Dogma" -- the Weinsteins bought the rights for each and released them independently. Both movies, he said, underperformed at the box office.
Moore scoffed at Eisner's contention that the film was dropped to avoid controversy in a political year, pointing out that the company continues to support such politically conservative figures as Sean Hannity, Rush Limbaugh and Pat Robertson through some of its media outlets.
Moore also claimed that an unnamed individual with ties to the Republican Party had intimidated Mel Gibson's Icon Productions, which had agreed to distribute the movie before Miramax took over. Icon subsequently backed out, so Harvey Weinstein stepped in and took over. When Disney blocked the release, Moore found himself without a summer date, or even a distribution deal in the United States, he said.
Worldwide rights for the film have been sold through other distributors almost everywhere except Hong Kong and Taiwan, Moore said. "So everyone else in the world can see this movie except Americans."
Although he said he was reserving further comments about the Disney matter while negotiations continue, Moore warmed to the task of excoriating President Bush about the war in Iraq, frequently amusing a packed audience of American and European entertainment media.
Moore referred to himself as "a patriotic American who believes in the actual, real principles" of what the United States stands for, including the idea that "you do not invade another country until they're attacking you."
Screenings for the movie in Cannes are scheduled for Monday. Additional showings have been added due to overwhelming demand.
© 2004 The Washington Post Company