Miramax can reclaim controversial doc

This article was updated at 7:17 p.m.

CANNES — It’s official: Disney has given Miramax Films co-chairmen Bob and Harvey Weinstein a greenlight to buy back Michael Moore’s political hot potato “Fahrenheit 9/11.”

Following the Mouse House’s edict forbidding Miramax from releasing the documentary feature, speculation has been rife about what sort of alternative solution would be reached so that the film could go out via another distrib.

Reports indicated Disney had rejected a proposal earlier this week from the Miramax chiefs to buy back the company’s $6 million investment in Moore’s film. Disney denies that it rejected any such proposal.

The studio said Wednesday that Miramax was instructed a year ago to sell its interest in the picture. Sources said Miramax was given the option either to sell to a third party or for the Weinsteins to personally buy out the investment.

“We are very happy that Disney has agreed to allow Bob and Harvey to buy back the company’s entire financial interest in ‘Fahrenheit 9/11,’ ” said Miramax senior VP of corporate communications Matthew Hiltzik. “Bob and Harvey are providing Disney a term sheet based on the deal previously done on ‘Dogma.’ Bob and Harvey look forward to promptly completing the transaction.”

Disney’s veto was based on the view that “it was not appropriate for Disney, a family entertainment company, to be the distributor of a politically charged movie in an election year.”

Pic, which preems in Competition at the Cannes Film Festival on Monday, contains Moore’s reflections on the state of America and asks questions about the role that family connections and oil concerns may have played in the Bush government’s handling of the September 2001 terrorist attacks.

Moore is in the final stages of mixing the film and could not be reached for comment on the latest distribution development.

Miramax’s marketing staff has been working to produce promotional materials and has announced a July 2 theatrical release date for the pic despite the absence of a concrete distribution plan. While posters for many of the films bowing at Cannes are plastered up and down the Croisette, “Fahrenheit 9/11″ is not among them.

Following his initial statement on the Disney ban, Moore has maintained a low media profile, saying he prefers to let the film speak for itself.

With Disney’s clearance, negotiations are expected to accelerate to lock in a distribution arrangement. While Lions Gate (which released ‘Dogma’ for Miramax), Newmarket and Focus Features are believed to be front-runners for the deal, the fact that no agreement has yet been clinched indicates the Weinsteins may be seeking tough terms.

(Cathy Dunkley contributed to this report.)

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