Published on Saturday, August 14, 2004 by Reuters
U.S. Army, 'Fahrenheit 9/11' Distributors at War
by Bob Tourtellotte
LOS ANGELES - Just in case anti-Bush documentary "Fahrenheit 9/11" needed any more controversy to fuel its hot box office, a new war of words broke out on Friday over whether the U.S. Army is stonewalling efforts to book the film at military bases.
But the organization that orders films for the 160 base theaters countered that it was the distributors -- Fellowship Adventure Group, IFC Films and Lions Gate Films -- that had the problem and noted they plan to stock base stores with the film's DVDs when they are released.
The movie, made by Oscar-winning director Michael Moore, has grossed over $113 million at domestic box offices and such a blockbuster would be routinely, and quickly, ordered up by the military.
But the movie presents a scathing view of President Bush's drive to war in Iraq, and it paints an unflattering view of the conduct of some U.S. military personnel. Although to be fair, many of the men and women fighting in Iraq are depicted as compassionate and caring.
Moore has made no secret of the fact he wants Bush ousted from office, and the film is undoubtedly anti-war.
"We have made all requested materials available to them, but unfortunately, a commitment to show the film has not been made," a Lions Gate spokeswoman said.
A spokesman for Fellowship Adventure Group claimed the military was stonewalling for obvious reasons.
Judd Anstey, public affairs specialist for the Army and Air Force Exchange Service which books movies for military base theaters, denied any suggestion the decision not to book the film had anything to do with its content and was solely based on business.
CONTENT OR COMMERCE?
The organization, called AAFES, is a non-appropriated government group, meaning that it is almost exclusively funded through its own ability to make money. The time between when "Fahrenheit 9/11" would be played in base theaters and when it would be sold on DVD was too short to allow it to make money, Anstey said.
"This was based on business standards," he told Reuters.
Anstey said it was only about a week ago that AAFES was told "Fahrenheit 9/11" would be available to the bases by Aug. 16.
By that time, AAFES had already booked base theaters with movies through Sept. 3, and with a reported DVD release date of Oct. 5, it simply didn't think enough base personnel would show up to make the movie profitable.
"Historically, for films screened within that type of time frame, the box office is marginal," he said.
Moreover, he said, its audience size was limited because it has played in civilian theaters since June 23.
But sources within the distribution group said AAFES was first contacted in mid-July, given an availability date of Aug. 16, and told 200 to 300 prints would be ready to go by then.
Sources at rival movie studios who asked to remain anonymous said both sides may have their points. Typically the military is fast to order up blockbuster movies that make over $100 million.
Just as typically, independent film distributors have fewer prints to ship around. With "Fahrenheit 9/11" playing so strongly, it may be that only recently the prints became available, the sources said.
The spokesman for Fellowship Adventure Group also noted that the DVD release date has yet to be official and has only been reported in the media.
Anstey said that without an official DVD release date, AAFES had to base its decision on what had been reported.
© Copyright 2004 Reuters Ltd