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Fahrenheit 9/11 - Preview & controversy

Preview by: Jack Foley

SELDOM one to shy away from controversy, controversial director Michael Moore has found himself at the centre of a massive storm concerning his latest documentary, Fahrenheit 9/11.

On the eve of its debut at the Cannes Film Festival, the Oscar-winning film-maker has posted a notice on his website announcing that film studio, Disney, has refused to release the film in his home country, America.

Fahrenheit 9/11 was to be distributed by Miramax, a division of Disney, but, according to reports last week, Disney has 'officially decided to prohibit' Miramax from distributing the film.

The decision was taken by Disney due to the sensitive nature of the documentary, which links US President, George Bush, with powerful families in Saudi Arabia, including that of Osama Bin Laden.

It also attacks the president's actions before and after September 11, 2001.

Moore, needless to say, is furious with the decision and has questioned whether Disney should be allowed to make such a decision in a supposedly 'free and open society'.

Miramax, which is run by Hollywood moguls, Harvey and Bob Weinstein, had agreed to distribute the documentary, but Disney stepped in, because it was not happy with the deal.

The company bought Miramax a decade ago but retained the rights to block films it deemed against its interests, such as adult-rated films.

However, according to an article in the New York Times, Miramax does not agree that this was a situation where that clause should be invoked.

Moore, on his website, goes on to state: "For nearly a year, this struggle has been a lesson in just how difficult it is in this country to create a piece of art that might upset those in charge.

"Some people may be afraid of this movie because of what it will show.

"But there's nothing they can do about it now because it's done, it's awesome, and if I have anything to say about it, you'll see it this summer - because, after all, it is a free country."


However, there is an element of hope, as a spokesman for Miramax, Matthew Hilzik, told the New York Times that the company is discussing the issue with Disney with the hope of resolving the debate 'amicably'.

But Zenia Mucha, a Disney spokesman, said: "We advised both [Moore's] agent and Miramax in May of 2003 that the film would not be distributed. That decision stands."

The company even went on to accuse Mr Moore of engineering the dispute for maximum publicity ahead of the Cannes Film Festival, which opens this week.

But in typically confrontational fashion, Moore's agent, Ari Emanuel, accused Disney and its chief executive, Michael Eisner, of fearing a loss of tax breaks if it backs the film's release in the US.

Fahrenheit 9/11 takes a frank, and subsequently controversial, look at the US in the aftermath of September 11, and its title comes from Ray Bradbury's novel, Fahrenheit 451, about a future where books are burned and trivial information is prized above knowledge and wisdom.

Moore first began using the Fahrenheit 9/11 title in February 2002, when he e-mailed fans to claim publisher HarperCollins had delayed issuing his book Stupid White Men, because of its criticism of Mr Bush.

It is the latest in a long line of battles the Oscar-winning documentary film-maker has fought and won, including that for his last feature, Bowling For Columbine, which took a look at gun culture in the US.

It was that film which won him the Oscar, at which ceremony he used his acceptance speech to criticise Mr Bush, calling him a 'fictitious president'.

Moore first rose to notoriety, in 1990, with his film, Roger and Me, which saw him pursue Roger Smith, chief executive of General Motors, to quiz him about the consequences of the car giant sacking hundreds of staff in his home town of Flint, Michigan.

There is some good news for UK fans of Moore, though, as they will be able to see Fahrenheit 911 when it is released by distributor, Optimum Releasing, in the Summer.

A spokesman for the company stated: "We feel it is important that artists and commentators are always free to express their opinions."

UPDATE: Disney and the co-chiefs of Miramax Films are nearing a deal that would allow Moore to find a new distributor for Fahrenheit 9/11.

Miramax spokesman, Matthew Hiltzik, announced that Disney had agreed to sell the rights to the film to Miramax co-chief executives, Harvey and Bob Weinstein, who could then go out and find a new distributor.

A spokesman for the Moore camp has yet to comment, although Disney spokeswoman, Zenia Mucha, confirmed: "Disney has offered to sell Miramax's interest in the film to either a third party or Harvey and Bob."

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