CANNES, France -- As promised, director Michael Moore lit a powder keg yesterday at the Cannes Film Festival: His incendiary "Fahrenheit 9/11" riled and disturbed audiences with a relentless critique of the Bush administration in the post-Sept. 11 world.
At its official screening in the Cannes competition yesterday, the documentary drew an enthusiastic standing ovation -- onlookers placed it at 15-20 minutes -- punctuated by cries of "Bravo." "It was the longest standing ovation I've seen in over 25 years," said Harvey Weinstein, whose Miramax Films funded the project despite the objections of parent company Walt Disney Co.
Though it has no distributor yet, Moore has promised to get it into US theaters before the November presidential contest. "Will it influence the election? I hope it influences people to leave the theater and become good citizens," Moore said at a news conference yesterday. "I'll leave it to others to decide what kind of impact it's going to have on the election." The movie reiterates other critics' accusations about the Bush family's financial connections to Saudi oil interests and the family of Osama bin Laden. Moore charges that the White House was asleep at the wheel before the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, then used fear-mongering of future terrorism to muster support for the Iraq war.
Yet Moore -- the provocateur behind the Academy Award-winning "Bowling for Columbine," which dissected American gun culture -- packages his anti-Bush message in a way that provokes laughs and gasps.
Unlike his previous documentaries, Moore spends far less time on-screen here.
"The material didn't need the help. It was strong enough already. And I feel that a little bit of me probably goes a long way," Moore said. "The film is clearly my voice, my vision, and the way I see things. My sense of humor."
Interviews, mocking footage of Bush's often inelegant speeches, and comments by US soldiers in Iraq -- many expressing harsh disillusionment in their leaders -- dominate the film.
It opens with a whimsical recap of the 2000 presidential campaign and the rancor after Florida's photo-finish vote threw the election to Bush over Al Gore.
"Was it all just a dream?" Moore pondered. "Did the last four years even happen?"
The Sept. 11 attacks play out with no images of the planes that hit the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. Instead, Moore fades to black and provides only the sounds of the planes crashing into the towers, before fading in again on tearful faces of people watching the devastation and a slow-motion montage of floating ash and debris after the buildings collapsed.
Moore examines Saudi financial ties to the Bush family and presents post-Saddam Hussein Iraq as an economic-development zone for American corporations. The film takes its title from Ray Bradbury's "Fahrenheit 451," which refers to the temperature needed to burn books in an anti-Utopian society. Moore calls "Fahrenheit 9/11" the "temperature at which freedom burns." Material from The Hollywood Reporter was used in this report.