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‘Fahrenheit 9/11’ creates stir at Cannes festival

David Germain Associated Press

As promised, Michael Moore lit a powder keg Monday at the Cannes Film Festival: His incendiary “Fahrenheit 9/11” riled and disturbed audiences with a relentless critique of the Bush administration in the post-Sept. 11 world.

If Moore can get the movie into U.S. theaters this summer as planned, the title “Fahrenheit 9/11” could become a rallying cry in the fall election for voters hoping to see Democratic challenger John Kerry defeat President Bush.

“Will it influence the election? I hope it just influences people to leave the theater and become good citizens,” Moore said at a news conference Monday. “I’ll leave it to others to decide what kind of impact it’s going to have on the election.”

Moore still is arranging for a U.S. distributor. Miramax financed the movie, but parent company Disney blocked the planned July 4 release because of its political overtones. Miramax owners Bob and Harvey Weinstein are negotiating with Disney to buy the rights and release the picture independently or through a third party.

The film takes its title from Ray Bradbury’s novel about an anti-Utopian society, “Fahrenheit 451,” which refers to the temperature needed to burn books. Moore calls “Fahrenheit 9/11” the “temperature at which freedom burns.”

The film reiterates accusations about the Bush family’s financial connections to Saudi oil interests and the family of Osama bin Laden. Moore charges that the White House was asleep at the wheel before the Sept. 11 attacks, then used fear-mongering to muster support for the Iraq war.

After making himself the lead figure in his previous documentaries, including the Academy Award-winning “Bowling for Columbine,” which dissected American gun culture, Moore spends far less time on screen here. Interviews, mocking footage of Bush’s often inelegant speeches, and comments by U.S. soldiers in Iraq — many expressing harsh disillusionment in their leaders — dominate the film.

The Sept. 11 attacks play out with no images of the planes that hit the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. Instead, Moore fades to black and provides only the sounds of the planes crashing into the towers, before fading in again on tearful faces of people watching the devastation and a slow-motion montage of floating ash and debris.

Graver in tone than “Bowling for Columbine,” the film includes grisly images of dead Iraqi babies and burned children, along with amputees and other U.S. soldiers injured in Iraq.

James Rocchi, film critic for DVD rental company Netflix, said he found Moore too smug and stunt-driven in the past. Yet in “Fahrenheit 9/11,” Rocchi said, Moore presents powerful segments about losses on both sides of the Iraq war and the grief of American and Iraqi families.

“This film is at its best when it is most direct and speaks from the heart, when it shows lives torn apart,” Rocchi said.

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