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Effect of controversial Moore film on election is debatable

NEW YORK -- Having already won an Oscar, a Palme d'Or, and international fame, filmmaker Michael Moore is launching his latest film, ''Fahrenheit 9/11," this week with an even more ambitious goal -- to influence the outcome of this year's presidential election.

Moore, in front of an enthusiastic crowd of celebrities, said, ''It would be a good thing" if his politically charged documentary about Sept. 11 and Iraq inspires Democrats to vote against President Bush. In keeping with the Democratic movement to elect ''anybody but Bush," Moore did not say a word about the presumptive Democratic nominee, either on screen or in his impromptu remarks afterward.

''I was asked by a lot of people coming in here if this movie would affect the election," Moore said. He acknowledged that the film, which paints a cartoonishly negative portrait of Bush, might be ''preaching to the choir," but added: ''The choir has been asleep. If this movie gets the choir singing again, that's a good thing."

Following several books critical of the Bush administration, including those by former anti-terrorism czar Richard Clarke and journalist Bob Woodward, the Moore film, which premiered here Monday night, has sparked an upheaval in Hollywood and in political circles. Although Miramax financed the movie, its parent company, the Disney Corp., refused to distribute it, saying it is too overtly partisan. Miramax heads Harvey and Bob Weinstein reached a separate distribution deal with Lions Gate and IFC Films.

But whether the movie, which opens nationally next week, will cause a real stir among voters is debatable, given that the pre-release publicity has given away most of its secrets -- and that it is likely to draw partisans, rather than undecided voters in the handful of swing states, to the theaters. At the same time, some of the most provocative parts, about Bush's relationship with Saudi Arabia and abuse of Iraqi prisoners, are either thinly supported or have already been made public. Even Moore conceded having doubts about his powers of persuasion, saying, ''It's just a movie."

In particular, the film dwells on the departure of a planeload of Saudi relatives of terrorist mastermind Osama bin Laden on Sept. 13, 2001, implying that Bush improperly allowed them to flee in the aftermath of the attacks, and suggests an ominously close relationship between the Bush family and Saudi royals.

It also shows a series of photos with President George H.W. Bush and Saudi diplomats, but does not say when or where the photos were taken, or if they came from routine White House meetings.

Images of US soldiers taunting Iraqi prisoners and making sexually explicit jokes offer some of the film's most powerful political statements, but they come after more than three-quarters of voters polled in several surveys say they have already seen similar photographs from the Abu Ghraib prison. Moore has said he struggled with whether to release his photographs before the film came out, but decided not to because he feared he would be accused of political opportunism.   Continued...

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Michael Moore, who won a prize at Cannes for his new film, admits having doubts about his powers of persuasion, saying, 'It's just a movie.'
Michael Moore, who won a prize at Cannes for his new film, admits having doubts about his powers of persuasion, saying, "It's just a movie." (AP Photo )
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