'Fahrenheit 9/11' Is a Red-Hot Ticket
At the Film's U.S. Premiere, the White House Takes the Heat
By Hanna Rosin and Mike Allen
Washington Post Staff Writers
Thursday, June 24, 2004; Page A01
The White House preemptively gave the movie two thumbs down: "Outrageously false," said communications director Dan Bartlett, when he was asked about some of its allegations.
Sizzling! countered Rep. Jay Inslee (D-Wash.), who plans a teach-in at a Seattle theater to tap into the "anger brewing against this administration."
The director, Michael Moore, predicted that those on the fence regarding his new documentary will be off it and on his side when the last credits roll.
A group called Move America Forward has begun a letter-writing campaign asking theaters not to show "Michael Moore's horrible anti-American movie."
All this before "Fahrenheit 9/11" has even officially opened.
"I can't think of any precedent for it in a presidential campaign," says Frances Lee, a political science professor at Case Western Reserve University. "As a marketing phenomenon it seems to echo 'The Passion [of the Christ]': intense enthusiasm, organized groups buying tickets with proselytizing zeal, the sense that one is getting something that corporate America wanted to stifle."
The last time a cultural moment injected itself into the race for president was in 1992, with then-candidate Bill Clinton's scolding of rapper Sister Souljah. But when "Fahrenheit 9/11" opens tomorrow in nearly 900 theaters nationwide -- a record for a documentary film release -- it will be received like a two-hour campaign commercial aimed at President Bush and his war on terrorism.
"I did not set out to make a political film," Moore has said in several TV interviews. "The art of this, the cinema, comes before the politics."
"It's not a personal attack on the Bush family?" asked NBC's Matt Lauer last week.
"Oh yeah, it's that. If you'd have asked the question that way," replied Moore.
Moore, whose previous films took on General Motors and corporate America and the firearms industry, has borrowed all the techniques of modern political campaigns to promote this one. He hired master political operative Chris Lehane, a former adviser to Al Gore and Wesley Clark, to do publicity for the movie. He's lined up the equivalent of endorsements, from former New York governor Mario Cuomo, who says he'll do "anything possible to get this picture advanced," to labor activists, who "are anticipating the release of this movie as eagerly as evangelicals were anticipating the release of Mel Gibson's movie," says a spokesman for the California Labor Federation.
Last night's U.S. premiere at the Uptown Theatre in Cleveland Park brought Moore and his wife, Kathleen Glynn, Harvey Weinstein of Miramax, the movie's distributor, and the city's liberal establishment, including a dozen senators and a large contingent from the Congressional Black Caucus.
So strong is the appearance of a campaign that David Bossie, president of Citizens United, accuses Moore of violating federal elections laws. A movie? Violating election laws? "Moore has publicly indicated his goal is to impact this election," Bossie said.
Since Bartlett made his comments about the movie in an interview with the New York Times last month, the White House and Bush campaign spokesmen have said little about the film, conscious in hindsight that they gave former counterterrorism official Richard A. Clarke publicity a publisher couldn't buy when they attacked his book, "Against All Enemies," this spring.
© 2004 The Washington Post Company
Michael Moore, left, and his wife, Kathleen Glynn, center, are greeted by Democratic National Committee Chairman Terry McAuliffe at the Uptown Theatre for the U.S. premiere of "Fahrenheit 9/11." At right is Lila Lipscomb, the mother of a U.S. soldier killed in Iraq.
(Michael Lutzky -- The Washington Post)
A June 24 article incorrectly stated that the Michael Moore film "Fahrenheit 9/11" is being distributed by Miramax. It is being distributed by Lions Gate Films and IFC Films.