Moore tools up for another furor

Michael Fleming - Dish

This article was corrected on Apr. 2, 2003.

Michael Moore, who didn’t endear himself to the Oscar audience, will doubtless arouse further ire with his next documentary.

Project will depict the murky relationship between President Bush’s father and the family of Osama bin Laden. And it will suggest that the bin Laden family was greatly enriched by that association.

Moore is making a deal with Mel Gibson’s Icon Prods. to finance “Fahrenheit 911,” a docu that will trace why the U.S. has become a target for hatred and terrorism. It will also depict alleged dealings between two generations of the Bush and bin Laden clans that led to George W. Bush and Osama bin Laden becoming mortal enemies.

While the words “fevered auction” and “documentary” should never be used in the same sentence, they fit the post-Oscar bidding battle orchestrated by Endeavor. Gibson and Bruce Davey’s Icon won with a bid worth eight figures in upfront cash and potential backend. Deal comes as Moore’s Oscar-winning “Bowling for Columbine” moves toward the $40 million worldwide gross mark. The $3 million film is one of the most successful documentaries ever. “The primary thrust of the new film is what has happened to the country since Sept. 11, and how the Bush administration used this tragic event to push its agenda,” Moore said. “It certainly does deal with the Bush and bin Laden ties. It asks a number of questions that I don’t have the answers to yet, but which I intend to find out.”

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Moore has put a year’s worth of research into the film. He’ll finish it in time to be submitted for Cannes, 2004, and released in time for the presidential election that fall.

The Bush-bin Laden tie, if only circumstantial, begins with a business relationship between the former president and Mohammed bin Laden, the Yemeni-born father of Osama who was a Saudi construction magnate. He died and left his future terrorist son about $300 million that has been used to finance global violence. The young bin Laden was among the freedom fighters propped up by the CIA as they battled the Soviets in Afghanistan. And bin Laden’s Al Qaeda campaign began after Bush put U.S. troops in Saudi Arabia during the Gulf War. A decade later, bin Laden’s Twin Tower attacks made the battle against terrorism the prime focus of George W.’s presidency.

“The senior Bush kept his ties with the bin Laden family up until two months after Sept. 11,” Moore said. “The bin Ladens invested heavily in the Carlyle Group, which has its hands in a number of pies and is the 11th largest defense contractor even though it mostly buys failing defense companies and sells them for profits.”

The mood in Hollywood was mixed over whether Moore would be ridden out of town after his anti-war speech. He admitted his passion was partly fueled from the research he’s done on the new movie and said public and industry reaction was overwhelmingly positive.

“I’d always watched and felt a little odd seeing actors win an Oscar and go off on some tangent cause. I’d just been given a standing ovation and an Oscar for a movie that deals not only with American gun violence, but how Bush manipulates the public with fear and how we are violent to people around the world. I expressed exactly what was in the film and instead of being blacklisted, I’ve not only gotten a deal to fund ‘Fahrenheit 911’ but offers on the film after. Presales on (“Columbine’s”) video release ran ahead of ‘Chicago’ this week, and my book is returning to the top spot on the New York Times bestseller list. It’s because the majority of Americans agree with me see the economy in the toilet and didn’t vote for George W. People are now realizing you can question your government while still caring about the soldiers. We are all still filled with rage over Sept. 11 and have every right to seek vengeance on the bad guy. But not any old bad guy.”

Moore said he was mildly surprised by the speech reaction, since it was a carbon copy of what he said at the Spirit Awards the previous day: “I didn’t write an Oscar speech because I never thought we’d win. The last documentary that was a box office success and won the Oscar was ‘Woodstock,'” Moore said.

MOORE DOCU DRAMA: So what was it like to be a documentary runner-up and stand behind Michael Moore when the booing began? For “Prisoner of Paradise” directors Malcolm Clarke and Stuart Sender, confusion is the most apt description. “Michael came to all of us during the preceding commercial break and said he’d love it if we all got onstage if he won,” Clarke said. “What was weird for me was, I couldn’t hear a word he was saying because the sound projected toward the audience. But if you get onstage with a showman and controversialist like Michael, you have to accept what he does.” Clarke and Sender got PBS topper Pat Mitchell to delay a late April airing so they can secure a theatrical release for the story of German-Jewish actor Kurt Gerron, who was pressed into directing a pro-Nazi propaganda film about the concentration camps. Gail Dolgin and Vicente Franco, nommed for “Daughter of Danang,” were proud that Moore ranted. “I was amazed at the lack of criticism of the war to that point in the event, so it was great to be the first ones expressing what we all were feeling,” said Franco, whose pic airs on PBS April 7.

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