Fri, May 07, 2004 - Page 1 News List

Disney puts freeze on Michael Moore's `Fahrenheit 911'

AP , NEW YORK

Michael Moore's film Fahrenheit 911, which criticizes US President George W. Bush's handling of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and connects the Bush family with Osama bin Laden's, won't be released through Miramax Films on orders from parent company Disney.

Disney chief executive Michael Eisner said on Wednesday the company "did not want a film in the middle of the political process where we're such a nonpartisan company and our guests, that participate in all of our attractions, do not look for us to take sides."

Moore believes The Walt Disney Co is worried the documentary would endanger tax breaks the company receives from Florida, where Bush's brother Jeb is governor and where Disney World is located.

"What tax break?" Florida Governor Jeb Bush responded.

"We don't give tax breaks, that I'm aware of, to Disney," Bush said. "I appreciate the fact that Disney creates thousands and thousands of jobs in our state."

But the Florida governor also alluded to Moore's previous successes, saying he "wouldn't go watch a movie if it enhanced his large net worth."

"It wouldn't be ... the first documentary that Mr. Moore has made that is critical of my family," Jeb Bush said. "No big shock."

Moore said he officially found out on Monday that Miramax would not be allowed to distribute the film, but his agent learned this a year ago.

"They had told my agent last year -- Eisner himself told my agent, Ari Emanuel -- that there was no way they were going to release this film, and he told him why. Because he did not want to anger Jeb Bush in Florida," Moore said on Wednesday night. "He wasn't going to let a little documentary upset the Bush family."

But Miramax co-founder Harvey Weinstein wanted to go ahead with the film, and spent US$6 million finishing it, Moore said.

"Harvey thought he'd change their minds. We went ahead and made the movie anyway," he said.

Moore said that only when it was announced that Fahrenheit 911 would make its world premiere as one of 18 films screening in competition at the Cannes Film Festival, beginning next Wednesday, did Disney "finally decide to deal with it."

Whenever the decision was made, the timing couldn't have been better to stir up discussion.

"Heading into Cannes, you've got this whole controversy that people will be talking about -- Miramax not being able to release the film. It adds to the mystique of the film, it adds to the danger," said Paul Dergarabedian, president of box-office tracker Exhibitor Relations.

"With a lot of filmmakers, this would not be a good thing," he said. "When it comes to Michael Moore, there's not really a downside to him to have controversy."

But Moore said: "This is not a good thing ... No filmmaker wants to have his distribution blocked."

The confrontational director won an Academy Award for his 2002 documentary Bowling for Columbine, about the Columbine High School shooting and US gun-control policy. The film earned US$21.5 million at the box office, making it the highest-grossing documentary ever.

Dergarabedian said Fahrenheit 911 will find a distributor, possibly even before Cannes.

Eisner agreed, telling CNBC: "That film will get a distributor easily."

Miramax spokesman Matthew Hiltzik said that Weinstein remains passionate about the film and that Miramax and Moore are working together to find another company to help release it.

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