Will ‘Fahrenheit’ heat up Acad voters?

Moore bypassing docu category for best picture

Oscar season is no time to be negative. If you want to win, you don’t want to point out the limitations of your work, attract negative headlines, work at cross-purposes with your team or alienate any potential supporters of your cause with partisan politics — but “Fahrenheit 9/11,” which has already successfully broken most film release strategy conventions, plans to break awards campaign taboos as it heads into winter.

The first to fall will be the concept of glowingly positive “For Your Consideration” ads. Instead of just touting the categories “Fahrenheit” is competing in, these will in some way indicate that the film is not up for documentary, as per the wishes of director Michael Moore, which he made public on his Web site in September.

He’s gunning for best picture, among other major kudos, and his team of distributors from Lions Gate, IFC Films and Harvey and Bob Weinsteins’ Fellowship Adventure Group is following through, even if that means reducing the chances of winning.

“It didn’t qualify for documentary because we didn’t submit the forms,” says Jonathan Sehring, president of IFC Films.

“We always planned on a best picture campaign; now we can stress that,” adds Ortenberg, president of Lions Gate.

What the ads won’t contain is any political content: the distributors in charge of awards strategy want to keep an agnostic approach. They won’t be creating two plans depending on the outcome of the presidential election.

“Politics and the election are playing no part in our awards strategy,” says Ortenberg.

Leading up to Nov. 2, however, Moore has been busy actively dismantling those key bits of strategy. On a personal appearance tour of college campuses in swing-vote states, he has wreaked havoc and provoked protests. The press blares about dates being cancelled and added.

“We have nothing to do with his current tour,” says Ortenberg.

For him, it’s not about red states and blue states, but rather about the state of green. He wants as many people to see the film as possible, which will make it seem all the more important to the people who decide the big movie awards.

That’s why one of the first steps in the process was to re-release the film to more than 600 theaters on Sept. 24. Ortenberg hoped this would bump its $119 million box office tally to new heights. The first few weeks of that re-release weren’t exactly spectacular — “not great,” Ortenberg admits — but plan B is already in the works.

That includes blanketing award voters with the kind of DVD blitz usually afforded a major studio release and not a low-budget documentary.

Sehring is expecting a better push out of the DVD release on Oct. 31. A best picture nod may still be a long shot, but as Sehring points out, “so far, this film has defied all logic.”