Bush basher goes global

Moore stokes foreign fires; pic has heat in early bows

Will Bush-bashing bring in big bucks overseas?

“Fahrenheit 9/11” has already tapped into political resentment in the U.S. toward President George W. Bush to the tune of $60 million, part of that coming from Canada.

The prospect of a political doc doing an unprecedented $200 million plus worldwide is becoming ever more plausible.

French distrib Mars, a StudioCanal subsid, is opening “Fahrenheit” today with 231 prints. On July 9, U.K. distrib Optimum will unspool the doc on upward of 80 screens.

Release dates for other territories include Argentina on July 15, Mexico July 16, Spain July 23 and Australia and Germany July 29.

Moore spoke for more than two hours Tuesday with foreign press at the Essex House Hotel in Gotham.

Though “Fahrenheit” is expected to find a warm reception in countries that have disagreed with Bush’s foreign policy — it received an ebullient welcome in Cannes in May — Moore said influencing the U.S. presidential election was more important than promoting the pic abroad.

“I wish I had been able to go to most of your countries to do press for the film,” Moore said, “but we have an election coming up here and we decided that every day I spend outside the U.S. is a day away from our mission to remove Mr. Bush from the White House.”

Moore said that in addition to his goal of unseating Bush as president, he hopes “Fahrenheit 9/11” will make audiences in Australia, the U.K., Japan and other countries that make up the Coalition of the Willing begin to question their political leadership.

“I want people who see this film to say to themselves, ‘We need a regime change in this country’ and ask what their governments are doing in bed with Bush on this,” Moore urged. “And I hope the film encourages people in the Arab world to rise up and ask questions of their leaders.”

In a lighter vein, Moore suggested that Austrians should promise free ski vacations or Argentinians pledge free slabs of beef to Americans who vote against Bush in November.

While anti-American sentiment in many overseas territories — notably in Western Europe — stands to fuel the box office performance of “Fahrenheit 9/11,” Moore hopes the film will foster understanding that many Americans are firmly opposed to the war in Iraq and are ideologically distanced from the Bush administration.

“I want people to know through this movie that it’s not just Michael Moore in America who feels this way,” said the director. “The majority of Americans are now opposed to this war and I’m right in the middle of that. This is something people need to know.

“I just want the rest of the world to go back to that day on Sept. 12, when the hearts of the world poured out to this country,” Moore added. “I feel very bad that we squandered all that good will.”

France is expected to embrace “Fahrenheit” particularly warmly. Moore had been a cultural icon there well before winning the Palme d’Or in Cannes, and public opinion against the Iraq war is strong.

Michael Moore is loved here, and French people are against the war in Iraq,” said Stephane Celerier, managing director of the doc’s French distrib, Mars Distribution. “There is a lot of excitement about this film.”

“Fahrenheit” will debut with 231 subtitled prints — the biggest ever doc release in the territory. By way of comparison, that’s nearly 100 more screens than “Bowling for Columbine” opened with. Also bowing Wednesday is “L’Americain,” a local comedy about a young French man who believes he’s genetically American, with 400 prints. Nicole Kidman starrer “The Stepford Wives” and “Gaous,” a Gallic teenage comedy, are both debuting with 250 prints.

As in the U.S., whether the doc turns into a blockbuster turns on whether it reaches beyond Moore’s established fan base.

“Everyone in Paris will go to see it; it’s a great Saturday night dinner party subject,” said one Gallic industry observer, “but farmers in rural France may not be all that interested.”

Based on packed preems up and down the country over the past couple of days, Celerier reckons the film will be “huge” in France, where it has received an “all public” rating.

“We were very surprised by the R rating in America. You see worse things on television,” Celerier opined.

“Fahrenheit” has already played exceptionally well in Canada, where Alliance Atlantis opened it day-and-date with the U.S. release.

In the first 11 days of release, the film has grossed C$8 million ($6 million).

“It’s extraordinary. We’re setting house records all over the place,” said Jim Sherry, prexy of Canadian theatrical distribution for Alliance Atlantis’ Motion Picture Distribution. Distrib plans to widen the run for a second time this coming weekend.

“Fahrenheit 9/11” opened in 70 theaters across Canada June 25. After setting house records in half of them, Alliance Atlantis last weekend increased the rollout to 202 theaters. Docu played either first or second in more than 90% of its locations.

“It’s enormous everywhere,” he added, “just as solid in small towns as in large complexes.”

“Fahrenheit” has a 14A rating for all of the provinces, which requires that children under 14 be accompanied by an adult, and a General rating in Quebec.

Canada has about 10% of the population of the U.S., but Canadian filmgoers tend to over-represent on movies based on literary material or those with a British skew.

Moviegoers in the Great White North have demonstrated a soft spot for Michael Moore’s fare in the past, however. “Bowling for Columbine,” which Alliance Atlantis co-produced, brought in 23% of the North American B.O., or $4.4 million.

Some international distribution deals are still being worked out, including one for China, which Moore says will make his film the first foreign documentary released in that country.

In rampantly pro-Bush Poland — one of the three official peacekeepers in Iraq — the film is expected to be a controversial release. The 28-screen opening July 16 through Kino Swiat represents half the print count of a standard James Bond opening. Distrib is planning major television debates about the right of film to influence politics with leading politicians, intellectuals and filmmakers, including Andrzej Wajda.

“We’re hoping for 100,000 or more admissions, which would definitely make this the biggest documentary ever released in Poland,” said Kino Swiat artistic director Marcin Piasecki.

Piasecki said that a number of major media sponsors already have withdrawn their support from the release but that only one of the country’s multiplex chains has declined to show the movie.

Moore remained good-humored throughout the press conference, his face clouding over only once, when a reporter asked what he plans to do if Bush is re-elected.

“You’re not allowed to speak those words in this room,” he said. “That’s like saying the sun will start spinning out of control and hit the Earth and asking me what I’d do then.”

(Alison James in Paris and Tamsen Tillson in Toronto contributed to this report.)

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