[Note: this story has been modified since its original posting to correct errors.]
The sun isn’t the only thing causing temperatures to rise this summer. Filmmaker Michael Moore’s latest production, “Fahrenheit 9/11,” is likely to set opinions ablaze across the nation and will soon be kindling reactions in mid-Missouri.
Based on the book “House of Bush, House of Saud” by Craig Unger, the movie critiques President Bush’s war on terrorism and alleges Bush family ties to Osama bin Laden. The title is meant as a further jab at Bush because it invokes “Fahrenheit 451,” Ray Bradbury’s novel about government censorship. Goodrich Quality Theaters confirmed the movie will come to the Columbia Forum 8 on June 25. Currently there are no plans for advance ticket sales, though sales for a Friday release typically start Tuesday or Wednesday before opening night.
Along with the questions surrounding the claims Moore makes in the movie, the documentary’s unexpected arrival at the multiscreen theater is sure to raise additional queries.
Paul Sturtz, who is the programmer in charge of booking films at the Missouri Theatre and Ragtag Cinemacafe, was disappointed that the movie wouldn’t be playing at the local independent theaters, which have had a history of screening Moore’s movies. Along with “Bowling for Columbine,” which Sturtz said was one of the biggest if not the biggest film played at Ragtag, the independent theaters screened “The Big One” and “Pets or Meat.”
Sturtz said he spent more than a year tracking the movie since Moore first announced it. When Disney announced it wouldn’t help distribute the movie, Sturtz started calling representatives of the “likely suspects” to get rights from the future distributor.
When Lion’s Gate Films became the distributor, Sturtz pitched an elaborate plan for Columbia’s debut. Organizers planned to premiere “Fahrenheit 9/11” at the Missouri Theatre. Sturtz said it would have played for 11 days, becoming the first time a movie would have played for a full week at the Missouri Theatre since 1987. Then it was to play at Ragtag for three weeks. Though Sturtz estimated he could sell more than 17,000 tickets, the distributor passed on the idea.
Sturtz said few independent movie houses are getting the movie and said he could count on one hand the number that did land the film.
He said the Lion’s Gate representative attributed it to political reasons. Movie distributors make deals with movie chains to release films on a certain number of screens. Sturtz said films like “Fahrenheit 9/11” are carrots for theaters that freed up their screen for less profitable films.
“We generally don’t pursue films that appear at the cineplex,” said Sturtz. “Wish it worked both ways.”
As more theaters have picked up the movie, groups opposed to Moore’s message have kicked into high gear. Siobhan Guiney is the executive director of Move America Forward, a national group started in May to support the war on terrorism and American troops. She said her group is protesting the movie because they see it as a piece of propaganda.
Guiney wants people who watch the film to realize the facts have gone through Moore’s filter.
“He has the right to make the movie and say what he wants to say,” said Guiney. “We also have the right to say his movie is inaccurate and not appropriate when our country is at war.”
E-mails about the film are pouring in, according to Matt Johnson, the marketing and training manager of Michigan-based Goodrich Quality Theaters. He said his company has received more than 2,500 e-mails since Monday. While the e-mail campaign started out being against the movie, Johnson said it became more positive as time went on.
He estimates about 95 percent of the e-mails are positive. Not just pro-movie, but pro-free speech, Johnson said.
“I get an e-mail every 30 seconds asking to show the movie,” he said.