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Mike Segar  /  Reuters file
Michael Moore's documentary linking U.S. President George W. Bush with powerful Saudi families, including that of Osama bin Laden, is stirring up controversy even before its release.
updated 5/5/2004 7:41:59 PM ET 2004-05-05T23:41:59

Michael Moore’s “Fahrenheit 9/11,” which criticizes President Bush’s handling of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and connects the Bush family with Osama bin Laden’s, won’t be released through Miramax Films on orders from parent company Disney.

Disney chief executive Michael Eisner said Wednesday the company “did not want a film in the middle of the political process where we’re such a nonpartisan company and our guests, that participate in all of our attractions, do not look for us to take sides.”

Moore believes The Walt Disney Co. is worried the documentary would endanger tax breaks the company receives from Florida, where Bush’s brother Jeb is governor and where Disney World is located.

“What tax break?” Florida Gov. Jeb Bush responded.

“We don’t give tax breaks, that I’m aware of, to Disney,” Bush said. “I appreciate the fact that Disney creates thousands and thousands of jobs in our state.”

Moore said he officially found out Monday that Miramax would not be allowed to distribute the film, but his agent learned this a year ago.

“They had told my agent last year — Eisner himself told my agent, Ari Emanuel — that there was no way they were going to release this film, and he told him why. Because he did not want to anger Jeb Bush in Florida,” Moore said Wednesday night. “He wasn’t going to let a little documentary upset the Bush family.”

But Miramax co-founder Harvey Weinstein wanted to go ahead with the film, and spent $6 million finishing it, Moore said.

“Harvey thought he’d change their minds. We went ahead and made the movie anyway,” he said.

Could controversy help the film?
Moore said only when it was announced that “Fahrenheit 9/11” would make its world premiere as one of 18 films screening in competition at the Cannes Film Festival, which begins May 12, did Disney “finally decide to deal with it.”

Whenever it was decided, the timing couldn’t be better to stir up discussion.

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“Heading into Cannes, you’ve got this whole controversy that people will be talking about — Miramax not being able to release the film. It adds to the mystique of the film, it adds to the danger,” said Paul Dergarabedian, president of box-office tracker Exhibitor Relations.

“With a lot of filmmakers, this would not be a good thing,” he said. “When it comes to Michael Moore, there’s not really a downside to him to have controversy.”

But Moore said: “This is not a good thing. ... No filmmaker wants to have his distribution blocked.”

The confrontational director won an Academy Award for his 2002 documentary “Bowling for Columbine,” about the Columbine High School shooting and U.S. gun control policy. The film earned $21.5 million at the box office, making it the highest-grossing documentary ever.

Dergarabedian said “Fahrenheit 9/11” will find a distributor, possibly even before Cannes.

Video: Moore and the Mouse

Eisner agreed, telling CNBC: “That film will get a distributor easily.”

Miramax spokesman Matthew Hiltzik said that Weinstein remains passionate about the film, and that Miramax and Moore are working together to find another company to help release it.

Mel Gibson, director of “The Passion of the Christ,” had difficulty finding someone to release his graphic telling of the last hours of Christ’s life. Major studios were wary because some religious leaders feared it would foster anti-Semitism.

But whether filmgoers showed up at theaters to be inspired or appalled, they showed up — and “The Passion,” under independent distributor Newmarket Films, has made more than $366 million in the last 10 weeks.

Corporate censorship?
Meanwhile, Sen. Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J., has asked the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation for a hearing on what he called a “disturbing pattern of politically based corporate censorship of the news media and the entertainment industry.”

Lautenberg argued Wednesday in a letter to his committee chairman, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., that Disney (through Miramax) has the violent “Kill Bill — Vol. 2” in theaters now, but is blocking Moore’s film based on its political viewpoint.

In the movie, Moore interviewed author Craig Unger about his book “House of Bush, House of Saud,” which details the Bush-Saudi relationship going back to the 1970s.

“I found about $1.4 billion in investments and contracts going from the House of Saud to companies in which the Bushes and their allies — I’m including Dick Cheney, for example — have had prominent positions,” Unger said.

The book and the film also say the government helped 140 Saudis leave the United States on Sept. 13, 2001 — two dozen of whom were bin Laden’s relatives.

While he hadn’t seen the film, Unger said, “There’s clearly a big audience for this and I think the intent to kill it will fail.” He pointed to several recent books besides his own that critically examine the Bush administration, including Ron Suskind’s “The Price of Loyalty,” Richard Clarke’s “Against All Enemies” and Bob Woodward’s “Plan of Attack.”

Moore previously ran into interference with one of his own books, “Stupid White Men.” Publication was postponed after Sept. 11, 2001, and publisher HarperCollins considered canceling the book or editing its criticisms.

After lengthy discussions, “Stupid White Men” came out uncensored and went on to top The New York Times nonfiction best-seller list.

The Florida governor alluded to Moore’s success, saying he “wouldn’t go watch a movie if it enhanced his large net worth.”

“It wouldn’t be ... the first documentary that Mr. Moore has made that is critical of my family,” Jeb Bush said. “No big shock.”

© 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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