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Fahrenheit 9/11 Raises the Temperature of Debate over Iraq War - 2004-07-02

Propelled by controversy, Michael Moore's movie Fahrenheit 9/11 earned an astounding $24 million dollars as it soared to the number-one slot at the box office on its opening weekend. Some analysts say this scathing critique of President Bush's leadership and the decision to go to war in Iraq is electrifying debate and raising public awareness of the war. VOA's Brent Hurd reports on what moviegoers are saying about a film that is leaving no one neutral.

More than three million Americans have seen the film Fahrenheit 9/11 within its first week of release. Theater owners in cities across the country reported sellout crowds. The movie is generating as much debate as it is revenue. These are some opinions expressed at a popular theater in the Georgetown neighborhood of Washington:

“It was an effective movie. It did a good job of bringing home the personal side of what it means to have a war.”

“As a documentary, there was no balance and there wasn't much Bush support. It was a one-sided presentation of the facts, but there were some relatively harsh facts which present an indictment of the way this president has handled 9/11.”

“I gave Bush the benefit of the doubt before, but now there is no doubt. I really do not approve of his policies.”

“I don't know how much of it is true, but I hate conspiracy theories and it took away from the power of the movie. It seemed superfluous.”

In exit surveys conducted in 15 cities during the opening three days, nine out of ten respondents gave the film an "excellent" rating and said they would recommend it to others. The two-hour movie strings together a vast amount of interviews and original footage of Bush administration officials -- both on and off camera -- throughout the last four years. The film also includes extensive footage of American soldiers and graphic images of war casualties -- including Iraqi civilians.

The movie makes the case that President Bush used the tragic September 11 terrorist strikes to attack Iraq and was motivated by oil interests rather than national security. Such assertions have created a political storm that has rival conservative and liberal groups battling to silence or amplify the movie's anti-Bush message. The controversy swelled when the Walt Disney company refused to distribute the film. Mr. Moore says such efforts to block it have added to its popularity.

Many critics say the movie is misleading and nothing more than a political statement masquerading as an objective documentary. Such criticism has discouraged some Americans from seeing the movie, like Graham, a 33-year-old lawyer in Chicago. “News reports say this is by far and away the most money a documentary has ever made. That is just fundamentally dishonest. A documentary by definition seeks to document actual events, and tries to do so accurately. But this is not what Michael Moore is trying to do.”

Mr. Moore concedes the film is not intended to be objective but insists it reflects the truth. Some of the more controversial scenes in the film do omit some details. For example, when the movie scorns the "coalition of the willing" or US allies in the Iraq war, it mentions Costa Rica, Iceland and Romania but not Britain or Italy.

The film also draws an unsavory connection between the Bush family and the Saudis, including the Osama bin Laden clan. Most critics and even some supporters say this part of the movie simply goes too far. Elizabeth Blumenthal -- a 33-year-old international relations student here in Washington -- says the movie still makes a strong impact. “Regardless of whether or not there were things in the movie that were not accurately portrayed, it doesn't matter to me. I am sure there were some things that were unduly emphasized. Michael Moore has made no bones that this is a propaganda film. It clearly is and doesn't pretend to be anything else. If it gets people engaged and if it gets people to go to the Internet to check, I wonder if that is true? To me that would be a big step forward.”

Director Michael Moore says he hopes his ‘version of the truth’ will encourage more people to vote. He wants to help remove President Bush in November. The White House has dismissed the film as 'outrageously false.'

Analysts are divided on whether or not the film may influence voters. Most say the key question -- one too early to answer -- is whether the movie will attract undecided voters. Since recent polls indicate President Bush is currently in a dead heat with Democratic rival John Kerry, just changing a few minds could make all the difference.