Fahrenheit 9/11 controversy: Disney / Michael Eisner vs. Michael Moore
In April 2003, Mel Gibson’s Icon Productions rejected handling the Michael Moore project that evolved into Fahrenheit 9/11. Moore later claimed that he had a signed contract with Icon before Gibson bowed out due to pressure from the George W. Bush White House. Icon executives, however, deny that any such contract ever existed. Shortly thereafter, Miramax bought the distribution rights to the film.
An even more notorious Fahrenheit 9/11 controversy ensued when Miramax’s parent company, Walt Disney, halted the release of the political documentary. When Michael Moore went public about the ban, Disney president Michael Eisner accused the director of cheap self-promotion, for the controversial documentary was to be shown at the Cannes Film Festival in a matter of days.
Moore retorted that Eisner had vetoed the distribution of his film because the studio head was afraid that Florida governor Jeb Bush, George W.’s brother, would retaliate by revoking tax breaks granted to Disneyworld and other Disney businesses in that state.
Disney, for its part, had no qualms about profiting from Fahrenheit 9/11’s unprecedented success. In an article for Slate.com, author Edward Jay Epstein states that the studio, which (through Miramax) later sold the Fahrenheit 9/11 distribution rights to Lionsgate and IFC Films, pocketed — after expenses — approximately $46 million from the film’s theatrical release and DVD sales.
With more than US$220m in worldwide ticket sales, Fahrenheit 9/11 has become by far the most financially successful documentary in history.
Fahrenheit 9/11 banned, broadcast illegally
Fahrenheit 9/11 has been banned in Kuwait and in Saudi Arabia. In Cuba, however, there hasn’t been any ban. In fact, an illegal print of the documentary was aired on Cuban television in July 2004. Since the broadcast had not been sanctioned by either Michael Moore or the film’s producers, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences decided that Fahrenheit 9/11 was to remain eligible in the Best Documentary Feature category.
Eventually, Michael Moore chose not to submit Fahrenheit 9/11 to the Academy’s documentary committee because he wanted his film aired on American television before the U.S. presidential election on November 5. (At that time, an Academy rule prevented eligible documentaries — but not fiction films — from being shown on television until nine months after their initial theatrical release.)
On his website, Moore stated that other worthy documentaries should get their share of attention, while adding that Fahrenheit 9/11 would still be eligible as Best Picture and in other categories. Ultimately, Fahrenheit 9/11 failed to receive a single Academy Award nomination.
On November 1, an estimated 6.7 million German viewers, representing an 18.6% market share, watched Fahrenheit 9/11 in its first primetime showing on the commercial channel ProSieben, according to the ratings organization AGF/GfK. The documentary’s strong anti-Bush stance has been well received in Germany, where an overwhelming majority of the population opposed the invasion of Iraq.
Fahrenheit 9/11 has amassed approximately $7 million at the German box office, the second largest take for a documentary in that country, following Moore’s own Bowling for Columbine. Source: The Hollywood Reporter.
Despite controversy, Fahrenheit 9/11 was the critics’ favorite
Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 9/11 was voted Best Non-Fiction Film / Best Documentary by the Broadcast Film Critics Association, Chicago Film Critics Association, Dallas-Ft. Worth Film Critics Association, Florida Film Critics Circle, Kansas City Film Critics Circle, Las Vegas Film Critics Society, New York Film Critics Circle, Online Film Critics Society, Phoenix Film Critics Society, San Francisco Film Critics Circle, Southeastern Film Critics Association, and Vancouver Film Critics Circle. Fahrenheit 9/11 was also the Los Angeles Film Critics Association’s runner-up for Best Documentary.
Fahrenheit 9/11 was the second documentary to win the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival. The first was Jacques-Yves Cousteau and Louis Malle’s The Silent World / Le Monde du silence in 1956.
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George W. Bush, Michael Moore Fahrenheit 9/11 poster: Lionsgate.