American documentary filmmaker Michael Moore is no stranger to controversy. Movies like his Roger and Me and the Oscar-winning Bowling For Columbine have attracted a growing base of supportive fans and outspoken critics of Moore. Throughout his career Moore has been both fiercely praised and roundly denounced and has been called everything from a traitor to a true patriot. Michael Moore's newest movie, Fahrenheit 9/11, is scheduled for release June 25 and an intense firestorm of controversy has surrounded the film for several months now. Fahrenheit 9/11, which won the Gold Palm at this year's Cannes Film Festival, is scathingly critical of President George Bush and his administration for their response to, and following, the terrorist attack on the United State on September 11, 2001.
Some critics of the film have questioned the timing of its release, during a presidential election year, and especially since President Bush and his presumed opponent, Democrat John Kerry, are close in the polls. Desson Thomson, a film critic for the Washington Post, says because both political camps have already reacted so strongly to the film, Fahrenheit 9/11 may end up playing a role in influencing voters.
"There is a huge amount of attention and I suppose you know how much attention you're getting when your opposes really get riled up and it's clear that both sides of the political fence are riled up about this for different reasons," says Mr. Thomson. "There is an election coming up and America's elections have been decided by very slim margins. There's a kind of middle voter, independent voter who goes one way or the other. There's two halves of America who always vote whatever, for the Republicans or the Democrats. So this movie is going to be, I think, very crucial, it's not going to be the only thing, but it is leading to a huge debate about whether the war in Iraq was a good thing or a bad thing and this is sort of an emotional catalyst that could well be very influential."
But, Christopher Sharrett, a communications professor at Seton Hall University, says it is difficult to determine if Fahrenheit 9/11 would have an influence on voters come Election Day in November.
"It's hard to measure impact that's an old problem of media studies the influence of a film on the public mind," he notes. "I think that a film can thrive and become popular only if there's a kind of a foundation for it in the public mind, if the public is really receptive to it because of changes of the political and social nature inside of the population."
U.S. Republicans and others who support President Bush have been vocal in their condemnation of the film and it's maker, Michael Moore. Leo Lacaya, an official with the San Francisco City and County Republican Party, is among the staunchest critics.
"Basically, it's a slovenly piece of propaganda that is being analyzed as a piece of movie theater and not documentary when it's basically designed to make Michael Moore money by spreading lies and at the same time inflicting America with further pain because it places in a position when we start doubting what is on the political agenda when what should be on our minds best is how America can be best protected and how our interests are best preserved by people who are financed from outside to make more money," he said. "And I find it detestable and sickening that anyone would finally perfect a way of making money off the pain of others."
Desson Thompson, Professor Sharett and Leo Lacaya were guests on a recent Talk To America program that discussed the controversy surrounding Fahrenheit 9/11 and it's possible impact on American politics.