Raising the temperature

Fahrenheit 9/11, Miramax 2004, directed by Michael Moore. On general release.

In May 2004, Michael Moore’s film Fahrenheit 9/11 won the Palme d’Or at the Cannes film festival – the first time since 1956 that a documentary has won the top prize. The Disney Corporation refused to distribute it in an election year in the US; worried that an anti-Bush film might endanger the tax breaks Disney receives for its theme parks in Florida where President Bush’s brother Jeb is governor.

When it opened in the US in June, despite playing in only 868 cinemas across the country, it took $21.8 million at the box offices in the first weekend, the best opening for a documentary and also the best for a Palme d’Or winner, beating Pulp Fiction which opened with $9.3 million in 1994.

The film exposes the relationship between George Bush and the Bin Laden family and the US’s cynical use of the events of 11 September 2001 to spark fear in the minds of the US people about the terrorist threat and therefore to justify war in Afghanistan and Iraq. Bin Laden family members living in the US were allowed to fly out of the country at a time when all other flights were grounded. The film clearly shows how imperialist wars are about satisfying commercial interests of industry, the military and the oil companies and how these are tied to the Bush family, members of his administration, the Saudi Arabian government and Bin Laden family.

Michael Moore shows the viewer the opulence of the ruling class in the US, President Bush commenting on the horrors of war while more interested in his next drive on the golf course, Black Congress representatives standing up to expose the disenfranchisement of the black votes in the 2000 election and being cut off at the microphone by the senators. The audience laughs, almost with embarrassment, at President Bush in a primary school class, sitting for minutes reading a book about a little goat after he is informed of the Twin Towers attack. Moore shows the poor in the US, with poor housing, education, little chance of employment and a bleak future. He shows us young servicemen and women in Iraq singing songs of war as they raze houses, kill civilians and hood and taunt prisoners. Moore shows the Iraqi civilians killed by the US forces and the cries and screams of those finding their loved ones mutilated and dead. He uses the death of a US soldier in Iraq to illustrate how ‘national pride’ can easily be changed to anger when it is clear that there is no good explanation for why these young soldiers are being sent to their deaths.

Fahrenheit 9/11 gives a message that is not in the mainstream media and it is definitely recommended viewing. However, being aimed at a US audience in an election year, in terms of a British audience the film lets Britain – and in particular the warmongering Labour Party – off the hook. Its real success will be measured not by how many people see the film, but by how many people are shaken out of their apathy and begin to organise and get active.
Hannah Caller

FRFI 180 August / September 2004


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