'Fahrenheit 9/11': Michael Moore vs. Walt Disney Studios
Fahrenheit 9/11 controversy no.1: 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, have denied that any such contract ever existed.
Shortly thereafter, Harvey Weinstein's Miramax bought the distribution rights to Moore's documentary. That led to an even more notorious Fahrenheit 9/11 controversy once Miramax's parent company, the Walt Disney conglomerate, halted the release of the polemical film.
When Michael Moore went public about the ban, Disney president Michael Eisner accused the director of cheap self-promotion, as Fahrenheit 9/11 was to be screened at the 2004 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 the state.
Most successful documentary in history
Michael Eisner and Disney, for their part, had no qualms about profiting from the unprecedented success of Fahrenheit 9/11. 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 $220 million in worldwide ticket sales, Fahrenheit 9/11 has become by far the most financially successful documentary in history.
More 'Fahrenheit 9/11' controversies: Banned and broadcast illegally
Fahrenheit 9/11 has been banned by U.S. allies Kuwait and Saudi Arabia. On the other hand, there hasn't been any such ban in Cuba. In fact, an illegal print of Michael Moore's documentary was aired on Cuban television in July 2004. Since the broadcast had not been sanctioned by either 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 his film to the Academy's documentary committee because he wanted it aired on American television before the U.S. presidential election on Nov. 5, '04. At that time, an arcane Academy rule prevented eligible documentaries – but not fiction films – from being shown on television anywhere in the world 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 Oscar categories. Ultimately, Fahrenheit 9/11 failed to receive a single Academy Award nomination.
German television hit
According to the ratings organization AGF/GfK, on Nov. 1, 2004, an estimated 6.7 million German viewers, representing an 18.6 percent market share, watched Fahrenheit 9/11 in its first primetime showing, courtesy of the commercial channel ProSieben. The documentary's strong anti-Bush stance has been well received in Germany, where an overwhelming majority of the population opposed the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq.
As found in The Hollywood Reporter, Fahrenheit 9/11 amassed approximately $7 million at the German box office, the second largest take for a documentary in that country, following Michael Moore's own Best Documentary Feature Oscar winner Bowling for Columbine (2002).
Despite widespread controversy, 'Fahrenheit 9/11' was North American critics' favorite
As mentioned above, Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11 failed to receive a single Oscar nod. So much for the Academy's “liberal bias.” North American critics, however, were enthusiastic about the film.
Moore's documentary was chosen as the year's Best Non-Fiction Film / Best Documentary by the following:
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. Vancouver Film Critics Circle.
Additionally, Fahrenheit 9/11 was the Los Angeles Film Critics Association's runner-up for Best Documentary.
Also of note, 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.
'Fahrenheit 451' vs. 'Fahrenheit 9/11': Ray Bradbury vs. Michael Moore
Ray Bradbury has expressed his displeasure with Michael Moore, who “adapted” the title of his 1963 dystopian novel Fahrenheit 451 – about systematic book-burning in a totalitarian state – without the author's prior consent. According to Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451 is the temperature at which paper catches fire. According to Moore, “Fahrenheit 9/11” is the temperature at which freedom burns.
As an aside: Reportedly, “there's no authoritative value” for the temperature at which paper auto-ignites. Also, directed by François Truffaut from a screenplay by Truffaut and Jean-Louis Richard, Fahrenheit 451 was transferred to the screen in 1966. The film stars Oskar Werner as the book incinerator-turned-book reader, Julie Christie in a double role, and Cyril Cusack.
Michael Moore points out in Fahrenheit 9/11, that in the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in New York City and Washington, D.C., the FBI helped several Osama bin Laden relatives to leave the United States – without interviewing them before their departure and at a time when airplanes were grounded for just about everybody else.
In the documentary, Moore alleges that the prominent Saudis were able to leave the U.S. because of the close ties binding the George W. Bush White House and the Saudi Royal Family. The Bush Administration denied the accusation, while their apologists accused Moore of coming up with baseless conspiracy theories.
In late March 2005, however, a New York Times article revealed that the FBI did indeed facilitate chartered flights for “dozens of well-connected Saudis.”
Bloody War = Big Profits
In Fahrenheit 9/11, Michael Moore accuses major American corporations of exploiting the Iraq War to increase their profits.
According to a Feb. 2006 New York Times report, the U.S. Army “has decided to reimburse a Halliburton subsidiary for nearly all of its disputed costs on a $2.41 billion no-bid contract to deliver fuel and repair oil equipment in Iraq, even though the Pentagon's own auditors had identified more than $250 million in charges as potentially excessive or unjustified.”
Iraq War has led to more terrorist attacks
Though officially a crucial front in the Bush Administration's “War on Terror,” the occupation of Iraq has led, quite literally, to an explosion of terrorist attacks in that country. As a safeguard of sorts, Iraqis have begun buying terrorism insurance policies – the only such offerings in the world. As per the New York Times, the coverage includes “the following dangers: 1) explosions caused by weapons of war and car bombs; 2) assassinations; 3) terrorist attacks.”
Gilbert Burnham, of the U.S.-based Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, told Reuters: “We estimate that as a consequence of the coalition invasion of March 18, 2003, about 655,000 Iraqis have died above the number that would be expected in a non-conflict situation.”
A March 2006 New York Times editorial concluded: “The Iraq debacle ought to serve as a humbling lesson for future generations of American leaders – although, if our leaders were capable of being humbled, they could have simply looked back to Vietnam.”
Corporal Abdul Henderson and Michael Moore Fahrenheit 9/11 image: Lionsgate Films.
“Controversial” Fahrenheit 9/11 poster and trailer: Lionsgate Films.