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‘Fahrenheit 9/11’ race heats up

Lions Gate, Focus and Newmarket are all contenders.
/ Source: Hollywood Reporter

A handful of distributors are interested in picking up Michael Moore’s controversial documentary “Fahrenheit 9/11,” which Walt Disney Co. refused to allow its Miramax parent to release.

According to several sources close to the situation, the outfits leading the pack are Universal Pictures’ specialty division Focus Features and Newmarket Films, which distributed Mel Gibson’s equally controversial “The Passion of the Christ” in North America.

Miramax chiefs Bob and Harvey Weinstein said Wednesday they are finalizing a deal with Disney to spend $5 million-$6 million of their own money to buy back Miramax’s interest in the film, which explores the relationship between the Bush family and Saudi Arabia as well as America’s foreign policy post-Sept. 11.

With “9/11” scheduled to have its world premiere at the Cannes Film Festival Monday, the Croisette was abuzz with speculation that a new deal might be struck before the festival ends the following Saturday.

Lions Gate Films could be a contender as well, according to several sources, because that indie banner has previously rolled out such too-hot-to-handle Miramax fare as “Dogma.” In their statement acknowledging the current discussions with Disney, the Weinsteins specifically mentioned “providing Disney a term sheet based on the deal previously done on ’Dogma.”’

Lions Gate has not yet screened “9/11,” but both Focus and Newmarket took a look at Moore’s film before Cannes opened Wednesday.

One indie insider further said that Miramax could now be exploring a deal with a major studio and possibly looking to split up the film’s theatrical, DVD and television rights among various interests. The film’s DVD rights could prove particularly lucrative for such a property.

A Miramax representative declined comment on the film’s possible bidders.