Note: we are continuing to update this post. Make sure to read down to the bottom
Is bloviator Michael Moore making up stuff again?
Sure looks like it.
Just days from the opening of the Cannes Film Festival he’s basking in a wave of publicity that the Walt Disney Company is blocking subsidiary Miramax from distributing his new documentary “Fahrenheit 9/11” on political grounds.
Publicity-hound Moore’s allegations about Disney ring false. The very same Disney Company -- through its Hyperion division-- just published Pacifica Radio host Amy Goodman’s new book “The Exception to the Rulers” – a volume brimming with just as much lefty fringe politics and anti-Bush theorizing as contained in Moore’s films. Indeed, Goodman's book is a blunder-buss assault on corporate media conglomerates-- like Disney!
The Mouse House seems sophisticated enough to put up with and even finance the slapshots by Goodman and Moore if a profit is to be made. Duh!
Dissecting the current dust-up, it seems clear that Disney never intended to distribute Moore's film. Maybe the Mousketeers are cowards, but at least they are consistent. And Moore is whining now only to hype the pre-Cannes buzz. Sources report that Miramax never planned to release the Moore film, that it was always slated to come out through Lions Gate, as did the earlier Dogma.
Below find an exclusive full text copy of the article by Andrew Gumbel which will appear in Thursday's London-based daily The Independent which quotes inside sources saying there is nothing new in Disney's red light, that Moore knew it was a no-go from the outset. After you've read Andrew's piece take a look at this L.A. Weekly column I wrote in March describing Moore as the Ann Coulter of the left.
By Andrew Gumbel
Michael Moore, the establishment-bashing comedian and film-maker, accused the Walt Disney Company of political censorship yesterday because the company is refusing to distribute his latest documentary lambasting the Bush administration’s handling of national security since 11 September.
Controversy over the film, entitled Fahrenheit 911, erupted on the front page of the New York Times and elsewhere just days before Mr Moore is due to take the film to the Cannes Film Festival for its world premiere.
In an open letter to supporters, Mr Moore accused Disney of trying to kill the film, which is being produced by the Disney subsidiary Miramax, because the company was worried about its business interests in Florida and did not want to offend Governor Jeb Bush, the president’s brother.
“I would have hoped by now that I would be able to put my work out to the public without having to experience the profound censorship obstacles I often seem to encounter,” he wrote. “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.”
Disney officials appeared to be caught off guard by this onslaught and denied that the company’s decision was motivated by political interests in Florida. They also pointed out they had made it clear a year ago that they wanted no involvement with Fahrenheit 911, which was picked up by Miramax against the wishes of its corporate parent. [My emphasis -ed.]
Both the New York Times and Variety, the entertainment industry trade paper of record, suggested the flap over Mr Moore’s film could drive a further wedge between Michael Eisner, the Disney chairman, and the Weinstein brothers who run Miramax. The Weinsteins and Mr Eisner have been at loggerheads for some time, and speculation is rife in Hollywood that Miramax may prefer to find a new corporate sponsor when its contract with Disney comes up for renewal later this year.
In other quarters, the fortuitous timing of the controversy caused some people to wonder whether Mr Moore is really the victim of an attempted corporate muzzling, or whether he is deliberately creating a controversy where little or none exists to generate publicity and trigger a bidding war for the US distribution rights to the film, which have yet to be settled. “This seems almost too good to be true. I smell a rat,” said one well-placed Hollywood source with strong connections to both Disney and Miramax.
Miramax spokesman Matthew Hiltzik remained tight-lipped, saying only: "We're discussing the issue with Disney. We're looking at all of our options and look forward to resolving this amicably."
Whatever the true story, the grizzled documentary-maker has once again put himself front and centre of a political row likely to inflame partisan passions on all sides. In 2001, he fought with his publishers, Harper Collins, over the publication of his anti-Bush book Stupid White Men, which Harper Collins felt was politically insensitive in the immediate wake of 11 September. The book was delayed but eventually released in its original form, becoming an overnight bestseller.
Last year, Mr Moore cried censorship again after his unabashedly political speech at the Oscars – he called Mr Bush a “fictitious” president who had just started the Iraq invasion for “fictitious reasons” -- was greeted with jeers and boos. His film about gun violence, Bowling for Columbine, had just picked up the Academy Award for Best Documentary and went on to gross $22 million in North America alone, from an original budget of about $3 million.
Fahrenheit 911 was conceived as a provocative project from the outset. It promises to blow the cover on the cosy connections between the Bush family and the Saudi royal family and show how the White House has only exposed Americans to greater danger, instead of protecting them, since the suicide attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon two and a half years ago.
Mel Gibson’s production company, Icon, was originally involved but dropped out this time last year for unknown reasons. (Rumours of political pressure abound in the Moore camp, although Mr Gibson is conservative enough to have political misgivings of his own.)
Miramax then decided to pick up the $6 million production cost on its own. Despite the near-certainty of making a profit on the venture, this was done over the express opposition of Mr Eisner. “Michael Eisner asked me not to sell this movie to Harvey Weinstein; that doesn't mean I listened to him," Mr Moore’s agent, Ari Emanuel, was quoted saying in the New York Times. "He definitely indicated there were tax incentives he was getting for the Disney corporation [in Florida] and that's why he didn't want me to sell it to Miramax. He didn't want a Disney company involved."
Whether or not Florida was a factor, Disney certainly came under pressure from other quarters. Various conservative organisations threatened to boycott Disney, blasting the company, as one right-wing Internet activist put it, “for involving itself with this vile director and his offensive abuse of a national tragedy that is considered sacred to most Americans”.
At the same time, Miramax was bombarded with messages from the other side of the political fence praising the company for its support of Mr Moore.
Miramax would clearly like Disney to distribute the film in the United States, because it would avoid the need to share profits with another company. Miramax appears to have held out some hope that it could bring Mr Eisner around once the film was completed. There is no indication, however, that it was counting on this, or that Mr Eisner has somehow reneged on an earlier promise.
“The only thing that’s new here is in Disney’s reaffirmation of their previously stated position,” one well-placed source said on condition of anonymity. “Miramax never said it was distributing the film, even if people assumed it would find a way.” [My emphasis- ed.]
The source also denied that Fahrenheit 911 was causing any significant personal friction between Mr Eisner and Mr Weinstein, pointing out that they could hardly be getting along worse as it is: “There’s plenty of other issues to have catfights over.”
Mr Moore was not immediately available to answer the charge that he was creating controversy for promotional purposes. He is still at work finalising the print to be shown at Cannes. -- + --
Re-Update Re-Update Re-Update
Thursday May 6 5:20 PDT
No doubt that Andrew Gumbel's story yesterday was spot on. On the day after, it's obvious that Michael Moore's censorship story is in reality a publicity stunt. Below read the full text of Gumbel's story that will appear in Friday morning's The Independent:
-- ++ --
Moore accused of publicity stunt over Disney 'ban'
By Andrew Gumbel
May 7 Los Angeles
Less than 24 hours after accusing the Walt Disney Company of pulling the plug on his latest documentary in a blatant attempt at political censorship, the rabble-rousing film-maker Michael Moore has admitted he knew a year ago that Disney had no intention of distributing it.
The admission, during an interview with CNN, undermined Mr Moore’s claim that Disney was trying to sabotage the US release of Fahrenheit 911 just days before its world premiere at the Cannes film festival. Instead, it lent credence to a growing suspicion that Mr Moore was manufacturing a controversy to help publicise the film, a full-bore attack on the Bush administration and its handling of national security since the attacks of 11 September 2001.
In an indignant letter to his supporters, Mr Moore said he had found out only on Monday that Disney had put the kibosh on distributing Fahrenheit 911, which has been financed by the semi-independent Disney subsidiary Miramax.
But in the CNN interview he said: “Almost a year ago, after we’d started making the film, the chairman of Disney, Michael Eisner, told my agent that he was upset that Miramax had made the film… and he will not distribute this film.”
Nobody in Hollywood doubts that Fahrenheit 911 will find a US distributor. Mr Moore’s last documentary, Bowling for Columbine, made $22 million at the domestic box-office on a production budget of just $3 million.
But Mr Moore’s publicity stunt, if that is what is, appears to be working. A front-page news piece in the New York Times was followed yesterday by an editorial denouncing Disney for censorship and denial of Mr Moore’s right to free expression. The New Jersey Senator Frank Lautenberg has also weighed in, citing Mr Moore in a general denunciation of the political influence of media conglomerates.
Mr Moore told CNN that Disney had “signed a contract to distribute this [film]” but got cold feet. Disney insists, however, there was never any contract. And a source close to Miramax said the only deal there was for financing, not distribution.