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Group puts heat on ‘Fahrenheit’

Move America Forward pressuring theater owners not to show film
/ Source: Hollywood Reporter

A group opposing Michael Moore’s documentary “Fahrenheit 9/11” is urging U.S. movie theaters not to screen the film, which is set to open June 25.

California-based Move America Forward, which says its goal is “supporting America’s war on terrorism,” has launched an electronic campaign, both via e-mail and through its Web site, encouraging theaters not to play Moore’s film, which is critical of the war in Iraq.

Additionally, Move America Forward has listed on its Web site the movie theaters that either have agreed already to screen “Fahrenheit 9/11” or have not yet decided on a course of action. The Web site lists e-mail addresses of executives at 23 theater chains, both large and small, along with their business addresses, and it urges the public to contact them with their objections to the film.

According to Sal Russo, chief strategist of Move America Forward and a partner in the public relations film Russo Marsh & Rogers, which started the organization last month, the group has heard anecdotally of some theaters that will not show the film. But he was unable to identify any of those theaters.

“Moore’s credibility as a documentarian has been shattered,” Russo said. “Even supporters of the film say it is distorted.”

A spokesman for Moore’s film did not return phone calls asking for comment.

Tom Ortenberg, president of Lions Gate Films Releasing, which is managing the distribution of the film, said the company is still in the process of booking theaters.

“We are still finalizing our distribution pattern and we are still very much on target to open ‘Fahrenheit 9/11’ in something north of 500 theaters on June 25,” Ortenberg said. “I think the one message that everybody can take from ‘Fahrenheit’ — whether you support the war in Iraq, oppose the war or are undecided — is that we need less censorship in this country not more. For any organization to call for the censorship of this film is particularly distressing and misguided. If anybody wants to debate the issues raised in the picture, that is terrific, but to call for censorship of the film could not be more wrongheaded.”

It remains to be seen whether the effort by Move America Forward will affect the ultimate performance of the film. Unlike the usual specialty released documentary, which opens in limited engagements and then expands based on its performance, “Fahrenheit” will bow to a much wider audience.

Said John Fithian, president of the National Association of Theatre Owners: “Any time any organization protests against a movie, they ensure that the movie will do better at the box office than it would have done otherwise. If they have any doubt about this, just ask Mel Gibson.”

Although it opened amid a firestorm of controversy this spring, Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ” has grossed $370 million domestically.

“The movie theater is a place of public discourse, and all views and philosophies are welcome,” Fithian said. “It’s the right place for the public to debate public issues.”