Pop Culture

'Fahrenheit 9/11' Web leak stirs controversy

The war between Michael Moore and his critics has escalated as a Web site targeting the “Fahrenheit 9/11” director posted a link to an illegal “Fahrenheit” file download. In the process, it also attacked the filmmaker’s stance on copyright law.

A June 27 posting on the site MooreWatch.com invites visitors to download the film. It quotes Moore, though it doesn’t cite a source, as encouraging such downloading by saying: “I don’t agree with the copyright laws, and I don’t have a problem with people downloading the movie and sharing it with people. As long as they’re not doing it to make a profit, you know, as long as they’re not trying to make a profit off my labor. I would oppose that.”

Tom Ortenberg, president of Lions Gate Films Releasing, which is distributing the film with IFC Films and Harvey and Bob Weinstein’s Fellowship Adventure Group, said Wednesday that his company is exploring legal action.

“I think it’s deplorable what enemies of ‘Fahrenheit 9/11’ are doing,” he said. “We are currently looking into our legal options. We are not going to tolerate anybody trying to infringe on (this film’s release).”

Since May, there have been reports of downloadable versions of Moore’s movie on such file-sharing networks as Limewire and eDonkey, concurrent with “Fahrenheit’s” premiere at the Cannes Film Festival. But according to BigChampagne, an online media measurement firm, “Fahrenheit” took the file-sharing networks by storm Sunday evening.

“The first copies of ‘Fahrenheit’ — quite good-quality in the estimation of people who track these things — began to leak on Sunday night,” BigChampagne founder and CEO Eric Garland said. “It’s noteworthy that it took so long to show up in a big way in the file-sharing network, which is probably attributable to the fact that the film was on relatively few screens. The copy in circulation is a CAM version (a camcorder copy captured from an actual theater projection of the film).”

Not easy to access copyThe file posted at MooreWatch.com is in BitTorrent, a peer-to-peer file-sharing client. For anyone to watch the movie, a series of complex steps is required to access it.

One person who posted on the site complained about the amount of time spent trying to download the file. “After downloading all night, I am at 11%,” the Web poster said. “Should it take over a week to download; or is this part of the DDoS (distributed denial of service) attack?”

While that “Fahrenheit” skirmish was taking place on the Internet, the marketing and publicity effort surrounding Moore’s anti-Bush documentary has begun to resemble a political campaign. It includes a story of the day fed to the press as well as fast-paced attacks and responses from both critics and backers of the film.

Ortenberg said that while he sees how parallels can be drawn between the film’s media strategy and the way a political campaign is run, his efforts are still solely aimed at promoting the film. “We’re just marketing the movie the best way we can,” he said. “And we’re absolutely not going to tolerate (attacks). Hit us and we will hit you back twice as hard.”

On Wednesday morning, a news conference organized by the film’s distributors was held in front of a theater playing the film on New York’s Upper West Side. It featured members of Military Families Speak Out, who endorsed Moore’s film and recounted personal tales of loved ones sent to Iraq.

Said MFSO member Nancy Lessin: “When the drumbeats for war were deafening, we had a sign (in our window) that said, ‘My son is a Marine. Don’t send him to war for oil!’ We didn’t want our loved ones to be sent around the world to be used as cannon fodder. I can’t tell you how important Michael Moore’s movie is in bringing back the ability to have a dialogue.”

The film’s distributors plan to make use of similar testimonials in a new national TV campaign that began running Wednesday.

An advocate for Moore
Karen Duffy, former MTV personality and Revlon model and author of the new cookbook “A Slob in the Kitchen,” hosted the Wednesday press event. A Lions Gate spokesperson said Duffy will now be an “advocate for Michael Moore” when he is unavailable.

Said Duffy, who has family members in Iraq: “I believe and support (’Fahrenheit’). It made me even more proud to be an American.”

Moore’s opponents have been just as dogged in sending out almost daily news dispatches critical of the film.

Earlier this week, the conservative group Move America Forward trumpeted the fact that it was hosting a screening of the documentary “America’s Heart & Soul,” which Miramax Films parent Walt Disney Co. is releasing nationwide Friday. Although Disney had planned the film’s Friday opening months ago — before “Fahrenheit” scored its own release date — and while Disney has screened the film for a wide arrange of groups as part of an extensive grass-roots campaign, “Heart” was immediately dragged into the furor over “Fahrenheit.”

Move Forward proposed the film as an antidote to “Fahrenheit,” and Moore blasted it on his Web site as Disney’s attempt to counter his film, a charge Disney denied.

“Heart” director Louis Schwartzberg said he feels that he is caught in the crossfire. “Obviously it’s unfortunate to be caught in (the middle),” he said. “The two films are not in opposition. If anything, we’re on the same side. This is not a Pollyanna-ish look at America. They all assume that it’s a whitewash of America. I’m not ashamed that I love my country. This is a battle of money and egos, not even politics.”