Straddling the fence

The pros and cons of '9/11'

Daily Variety polled a handful of politicos, media personalities, industry players and filmmakers about their reactions to “Fahrenheit 9/11.” Among them: producer-director George Butler (“Pumping Iron”), who’s currently in production on a John Kerry documentary based on Douglas Brinkley’s bio; distribution expert Peter Broderick, president of Paradigm Consulting; Tom Hayden, former California state legislator and author; Christopher Hitchens, author-commentator for; filmmaker Aviva Kempner (“Life and Times of Hank Greenburg”); and comedian Bill Maher of HBO’s “Real Time with Bill Maher.”

Overall thoughts on “Fahrenheit 9/11”?

Broderick: I thought it was really strong. As I hear more reactions, it seems to be working for people. The standing ovation (at Cannes) was quite strong.

Butler: Quite an extraordinary film; I think it’s a marvel. Audience reaction was very powerful. Michael Moore is at the top of his game. It’s wildly entertaining and will spur strong word of mouth. People will want to talk and argue about a film like this… It’s a critique of George Bush that the responsible mass media have not addressed before.

Hayden: It’s a very good movie. It’s another perspective, a reflection of what’s on front pages and TV. There are some powerful scenes Americans will be torn apart by because in general they don’t like to see the consequences of their government’s actions oversees.

There are a scenes of soldiers at a Christmas Eve party who then knock down doors and humiliate women and children, and laugh about it. Why isn’t it on CNN?

There’s realistic footage of the wounds of war, not the green hazy stuff supplied by the Pentagon. There’s a lot of creativity in the movie, ingenuity and shocking revelations. Why Marine recruiters allowed themselves to be wired up and recorded hustling young black men is beyond me. They show themselves as oblivious, arrogant and racially blinded. The film makes you laugh and cry and leaves you shocked at awed at Michael Moore.

Hitchens: I think the movie is not just full of lies: it is a lie. It is full of falsifications and glaring errors. It is deceitful and outrageously so. I’ve written and narrated about 12 documentaries, mostly for the BBC. I know what the rules are. It would be nice to give some kind of hearing, even in your own head, to the other point of view. Ask yourself: Have I been honest? Could I defend it to a decent friend in a private conversation? The audience should be able to consider. I think (Moore’s) a dishonest and cowardly person. It’s a really terrible piece of work.

Kempner: Moore has Jonathan Swift-ed the Bush ascent to the presidency and his policies in Iraq. “Fahrenheit 9/11” is a brilliant weapon of political destruction. Moore’s visual and verbal humor is a devastating commentary on Bush’s war in Iraq.

Maher: I loved it. Made me laugh and it also showed footage that I kept asking myself, ‘why haven’t I seen this before?’ How come a guy (Moore) with a high school education is out-scooping journalists? When you see it all assembled, it makes things very clear.

On Moore’s docu style:

Broderick: Given “Roger & Me” and “Bowling for Columbine,” this is a more straightforward, less circuitous film. He marshals all his effects and ideas to create an overwhelming case.

Butler: The film is a polemic; Michael Moore is America’s Jonathan Swift, an artful polemicist. The footage is extraordinary. We see Paul Wolfitz licking his comb and then combing his hair — this guy is running in the war in Iraq?

It’s very realistic and very gritty, with a working class sensibility — very witty but not the funniest of his films. It shows that despite his success fame and wealth, Michael has not succumbed to the system; he’s succeeded without selling out.

Hitchens: No standards of any kind: aesthetic, filmic, moral or political. His only standard is what serves him as a celebrity, what can be thrown into the hopper against the president — throw it in no matter how contradictory or falsified or random. It’s the kind of film that Al Jazeera would be embarrassed to show on a very bad day.

Kempner: It’s his most sophisticated use of inter-cutting footage and biting interviews with his ironic commentary. He makes great use of music. It will especially appeal to young people who Moore hopes will register to vote.

Maher: It’s his milieu, his art form. To do a doc that’s funny and incisive is very difficult. It’s what he does and what I try to do in stand up.

Moore’s shaping of the facts:

Butler: It’s a potent political weapon. However, it’s very hard for a piece of art to change people’s minds. Were any people’s minds changed by “Bowling for Columbine?’ I hope the film works but I have to be realistic about it.

Broderick: References to propaganda or agitprop does disservice; he’s honest about his p.o.v. There are plenty of docs that make a pretense of objectivity but there are hidden p.o.v.’s. This is Michael Moore’s opinion and he found this information; he’s going to bring it back to us. In total, we’re persuaded he’s right.

Hayden: If you’re an investigative reporter you have to take the measure of the enemy. Today, there are elaborate screens and filters that prevent you from getting out the truth.

Michael Moore, emboldened by his success, is holding on to the strain of being utterly different that got him where he is.

I think he’s the man for the moment with a message. Without the crisis of global justice there’s no space for Moore, without Moore there would be less information. It’s the intersection of one man, moment and message.

Even if parts offend you, you will go away engaged in an intense discussion about what’s going on. It’s a portrayal of spin and propaganda you’ll never forget, some might say it’s unfair but if we’re being manipulated, is it Moore or them?

Hitchens: It’s a completely top-of-the-voice-register rant. He puts in things that contradict what he’s just said. For example: if Mr. Bush and his family are slaves to the Saudi royal house, and do this for money — his direct allegation — how come the Saudis could not get Bush to not destroy their client regime in Afghanistan? The Saudis opposed the invasion of Iraq. The inconsistency of this director is more profound than the inconsistency of President. It’s outright fraud and demagoguery.

Kempner: All of us who make docs cut in what we want. He obviously has a political agenda.

Maher: Obviously everybody who works in any art form, has to have a point of view, it’s essential to art. I don’t agree with every choice he makes but it’s Mike’s movie. There wasn’t a team involved in cooking this up; he’s the artist. Does he stick to the facts? Maybe there’s a good side to George Bush, but that doesn’t change the fact that the bad side is real and is in this movie.

Bad side, is that made up? Of course, it’s not, it’s him, it’s film of him. Moore didn’t make up facts, didn’t put it out there with these facts, knowing how they would be reviewed, unless they were checked.

Will “9/11” help the docu genre?

Broderick: Absolutely. The underlying idea is urgency for people to be exposed to more information and perspectives on issues that are so current. Moore promised to get this to the American public by 7/4, good to his word, and he’s up against tentpole movies.

Butler: The imponderable is will it work in the marketplace? My best guess is that it will work beautifully. Michael Moore has done as much for documentary films as anyone. It also coincides with the big interest in reality TV and more doc films getting theatrical distribution.

Hayden: What we lack in this country is government funding of documentaries. Everything must be privatized and capitalistic. Talented people go begging for money. Moore had to slug his way through very hard times. Money is now drawn towards him. Other doc filmmakers will still have ask for tax deductible donations from rich people.

Hitchens: Moore throws in stuff that is not true and omits stuff that is true. He’s holding up a megaphone in which murderers and tyrants can pump their propaganda into the mainstream.

Kempner: The film will be studied for years as a great anti-war film. What he pulls off is a sense of humor and sadness, using his off-camera commentary, news and feature footage. It’s inspiring to me as a filmmaker, I believe in literal use of footage. Michael will get support from other doc

Maher: Anything successful will be copied, that’s Hollywood.

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