Helmer to step up pub as pic opens vs. Spidey 2

In a year when studios are spending millions to trumpet their summer slates here, the pic with arguably the most publicity is a documentary with no distributor and no budget for prints and advertising.

Michael Moore, director of “Fahrenheit 9/11,” in his first public appearance here Saturday, was followed by crowds as he stopped to speak to striking French workers and then appeared on a panel about American directors at Variety Village.

“We still don’t have a distributor yet,” he said at the panel sesh. Moore said one of the sticking points is the release date, which has been set for July 2. That’s a tricky date, since it will go up against Sony tentpole “Spider-Man 2″ but, more crucially, it gives a potential buyer only six weeks to prepare.

A DVD release is planned for October, although that may come via a different distrib.

A petulant Moore, appearing at the panel, said Disney’s decision to drop the film was made two weeks ago, not a year ago, as reported in some news accounts.

He also expressed resentment that media reports have implied the troubled distribution negotiations are a publicity stunt to hype his film, which has been shopping for a U.S. distrib since the Walt Disney Co. blocked its distribution by subsidiary Miramax.

Arriving in Cannes Friday, Moore slipped quietly into a dinner hosted by Gilles Jacob at the Carlton for Max von Sydow. He’ll appear again at Variety Village for a one-on-one Q&A with Variety editor-in-chief Peter Bart.

The film screens Monday at the Palais; no announcement of a U.S. distrib is expected before then.

Moore, who finished “Fahrenheit” hours before boarding a plane for Cannes Thursday night, arrived amid the sort of publicity storm traditionally reserved for international pop stars such as Madonna and Michael Jackson.

While the Cannes Film Festival has planned thousands of photo ops in its 57 years, Moore had one planted on his doorstep when he encountered a band of striking French showbiz workers only yards from the Variety venue. The filmmaker was a few minutes late for the panel because the group asked him to make a speech.

At the panel sesh, Moore said the pic has distribution deals everywhere except Taiwan and the U.S.

Underlining his anxiety about closing a U.S. distribution deal, he referred to two past Miramax films that were distributed through outside channels following a Disney edict: “If anyone thinks this is a good thing, look at the box office of ‘Dogma’ and ‘Kids.’ We want to start out from scratch.”

Harvey and Bob Weinstein bought back “Fahrenheit” from Disney after Mouse House topper Michael Eisner stated he didn’t want to get involved in the potential political firestorm.

Though few in Cannes have seen the film, Moore has held a few screenings in the Midwest, and insiders said he got extremely positive reaction from the nonpartisan audiences. One of the feedback screenings was held in Michigan, but not in Moore’s hometown of Flint.

In June and July, Moore will hit the road to publicize the film. Reps for the filmmaker say his appearances have no political agenda; that is, published reports that he will hit only swing states are incorrect.

Instead, he will travel coast to coast campaigning for the film.

The U.S. distribution logistics could be brutal, particularly with the insistence on the July 4 weekend bow. “Fahrenheit” will be pitted against “Spider-Man 2″ at a time when U.S. screens are overbooked with wide-release studio product.

“They’re going to force it into the market on the most crowded weekend of the year against the biggest movie of the year,” one exhibitor here told Variety. The exhib expects “Fahrenheit” to open on at least 500 screens.

That plan might not harm “Spider-Man 2,” but it will affect campaigns of studio releases in June and July whose box office prospects are less than certain.

DreamWorks passed on “Fahrenheit” last week, according to sources close to the film. But it wasn’t clear whether the studio passed for political reasons or because it didn’t want to sandwich a major release between two of its other summer tentpoles: Steven Spielberg’s “The Terminal,” out June 18, and the Will Farrell comedy “Anchorman,” out July 9.

The suitors thought to be still in the running for “Fahrenheit” are Lions Gate, Focus Features and Newmarket Films. All are facing distribution terms that could prove prohibitive.

In preparation for the media firestorm, Miramax has hired the Glover Park Group, a communications outfit whose principals have served as advisers to the likes of Al Gore and Hillary Rodham Clinton.

Filed Under:

Follow @Variety on Twitter for breaking news, reviews and more