The absence of “Fahrenheit 9/11” at the Wallace Theaters chain, which operates the movie house nearest President George W. Bush’s ranch in Crawford, Texas, has sparked conspiracy theories in some circles that Wallace was taking a political stand against Michael Moore’s anti-Bush film.
But Friday, Wallace, which operates 54 theaters in all, will begin playing the film at many of its theaters. Have the owners had a political change of heart?
Not quite. It seems money — not politics — is at the crux of the issue.
Lions Gate, which is distribbing “Fahrenheit” with IFC Films, had been in a dispute with Wallace over how to split the box office from “The Punisher,” the comicbook adaptation Lions Gate released in April.
Wallace wanted to play “Fahrenheit,” but Lions Gate delivered an ultimatum: Pony up a larger share of the “Punisher” proceeds or no “Fahrenheit” prints.
Wallace balked, and thus people in places like Topeka, Kan., and Waco, Texas, where Wallace owns the only theaters in town, had to drive a little farther to see Moore’s film.
Since exhibs and distribs often determine how to split box office proceeds after a film plays, extended quibbling is frequent. If a distrib has a hit like “Fahrenheit” in the pipeline, however, they have a distinct advantage in those battles.
Recently, Lions Gate and Wallace settled their “Punisher” differences and, so, Wallace is getting prints, albeit in the fifth week of “Fahrenheit’s” run.
Wallace prexy Scott Wallace declined comment on the matter. Lions Gate chief Tom Ortenberg did not return calls seeking comment. The fact that the Jewel 16 in Waco, about 20 miles west of Bush’s ranch, wasn’t playing “Fahrenheit 9/11” became national news when Moore responded to a editorial published in the Waco Tribune-Herald proposing to show the film on the side of a barn in lieu of a nearby theater.
Moore responded, “Let’s show the movie in Crawford! If you . . . have the sheet and the barn, I can send someone with the movie!” That screening will still take place.