Even before its presentation in at the Cannes Film Festival, where it won both the FIPRESCI prize for best film in the official competition and the Palm d’Or, Michael Moore’s biting documentary Fahrenheit 9/11 was making waves. Mel Gibson’s company Icon backed out of a signed contract to finance the film after, according to Moore, top Republicans told Gibson not to expect any more invitations to the White House. Then, after it was more or less completed, Michael Eisner, a Democrat, let it be known that Disney would not distribute the film. At press time, Disney-owned Miramax is trying to sell the movie to another distributor for American distribution.
Fahrenheit 9/11 comes down hard-very hard–on Bush, his connections, and the incursion into Iraq that he and his rightwing ideologs pushed so hard for. Some of the most damaging information focuses on the links between the Bin Laden family and the Bushes. While American airports were closed following the September 11 attack on the World Trade Center, six private jets and multiple commercial planes took 242 Saudis out of the U.S. Many of these were relatives of Osama Bin Laden. A more uncensored version of Bush’s disputed military record that Moore got before additional black markings appeared shows that when Bush was suspended from the National Guard for not taking his medical examination, one other person was also named. He is James R. Bath, who became the Bin Laden’s money manager, mostly in Texas. Among the companies in which he invested were Dubya affiliates Arbusto and Harken. And that is just the tip of the iceberg.
Much of the footage depicts events already covered in the print and electronic press, but Moore does visit military amputees-the kind of imagery that the U.S. government AND the American TV networks has avoided transmitting. Moore makes fun of what he facetiously calls our independent media. He also includes the first footage of prisoner abuse in Iraq.
He does not put himself into the film nearly as much as he did in Bowling for Columbine. He lets silly footage of Bush golfing or reading to children, during the WTC attacks, do the work this time. He also personalizes the enterprise by following a woman named Lila Lipscomb, a patriot who supported the war and flew a flag in front of her home until her son died in Iraq. That is when, sadly, she saw the light and turned against the conflict. She became an activist.
As always, Moore includes footage of inner city youths whose economic situation makes them especially vulnerable. Military recruiters focus on these unemployed men in order to fill the ranks of the soldiers. Moore says that they serve so that we don’t have to. One of the last sequences depicts Moore asking Congressmen about their own sons’ service. Only one out of 535 members of Congress has a son in Iraq. It would have been too easy to come down on Bush alone. Moore claims, rightly, that the fish rots from the head down. This is a very powerful film.
© FIPRESCI 2004