Published on Sunday, June 27, 2004 by the Observer/UK
American Right Vows to Settle Score as Bush's Nemesis Turns Up the Heat
by Lawrence Donegan in San Francisco and Paul Harris in New York
After the film comes the film festival. The day after Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11 was released in American cinemas, it was announced yesterday that a festival devoted to films debunking Moore's own work will be staged later this year in Texas.
The American Film Renaissance has the backing of 'some big-time conservative donors', according to its organizers, and will feature up to 10 films, among them Michael Moore Hates America - a so-called exposť of the director's working methods, by filmmaker Michael Wilson.
'We want everyone to see Michael Moore's film,' said festival founder Jim Hubbard, a lawyer based in Dallas. 'But we also want everyone in America to see Michael Moore Hates America. Conservatives complain about institutional bias in Hollywood. But they need to stop whining and get out there and produce.'
The proposed anti-Moore festival is just the latest development in a widespread effort to discredit Fahrenheit 9/11, an excoriating attack on the presidency of George W. Bush and his decision to go to war in Iraq, which was released in the US this week.
The film's central claim is that Bush took the country to war to satisfy the commercial interests of a network of military, industrial and oil companies which had ties to his own family, members of his administration, the Saudi Arabian government and the bin Laden family.
Over the past few days countless Conservative commentators and Republican party officials have weighed in against the director, accusing him of everything from manipulating the facts to downright lying. Moore appears unruffled by the criticism, telling Hollywood Reporter magazine that he doubted the existence of films like Michael Moore Hates America. 'I think you've been taken in by the kooky right. I've been waiting to see this film. It sounds like great science fiction,' he said.
Several conservative organizations have waged campaigns to persuade cinema managers not to show Moore's movie. Others have said it should be banned as political propaganda in an election year. It has also aroused passions among liberals and Democrats, and has successfully used 'guerrilla marketing' strategies on the internet and among activist groups to generate huge media coverage.
That helped Moore overcome the initial setback of having Disney refuse to distribute the film. Now it has opened in almost 900 cinemas across America, many of which are showing it on several screens. Critical reaction to the film has been mixed. Many writers have picked at some of its assertions, saying that Moore has skated over the facts and leapt to conclusions. The film 'is many things: a partisan rallying cry, an angry polemic, a muckraking inquisition into the use and abuse of power. But one thing it is not is a fair and nuanced picture of the president and his policies', concluded the New York Times. But others have hailed it as brilliant work, devastating in its attack on Bush and the war into which he led America. 'Required viewing,' said the Washington Post.
There is no doubting the reality of the anti-Moore backlash, even among those on the same side of the political divide. Writing this week in Slate magazine, the writer Christopher Hitchens described Fahrenheit 9/11 as a 'sinister exercise in moral frivolity, crudely disguised as an exercise in seriousness'.
'To describe this film as dishonest and demagogic would almost be to promote those terms to the level of respectability ... it is a spectacle of abject political cowardice masking itself as a demonstration of dissenting bravery,' Hitchens said.
There will be more of the same in the coming days, with the release of a book called Michael Moore is a Big Fat Stupid White Male by David Hardy and Jason Clarke, long-term Moore antagonists who set out to expose the alleged inconsistencies and distortions in Moore's previous films and books. 'He creates a false impression without ever uttering a word that is untrue,' said Hardy, adding that Moore was guilty of serial mendacity.
As part of the response to such attacks the filmmaker has taken the unusual step of hiring his own 'rebuttal team' of advisers and fact-checkers, among them Chris Lehane, a prominent Democratic Party strategist who once worked for Al Gore.
A team of fact checkers has gone through every assertion made in the film, verifying its accuracy and identifying the source materials to back it up. 'We want the word out,' Moore said this week. 'Any attempt to libel me will be met with force. The most important thing is we have truth on our side. If they persist in telling lies, knowingly telling a lie with malice, then I will take them to court.'
© Guardian Newspapers Limited 2004