'Fahrenheit 9/11' packs local theater

By Julie Fann
star staff

JOHNSON CITY -- Despite the fact that Northeast Tennessee remains a Republican stronghold, a theater here was one of just 868 nationwide on Friday to open 'Fahrenheit 9/11', a liberal political documentary written by Michael Moore ('Bowling for Columbine'; 'Rogar and Me') that releases lesser-known information about the Bush Administration. All showings of the film at Real to Reel Cinemas on Friday were sold out, but most audience members felt that opening day amounted to nothing more than preaching to the choir.
   "It has its moving moments, and it's entertaining whether you're Republican or Democrat. The theater was 100 percent packed, and the audience clapped and cheered," said Nick Brown, a Johnson City resident who saw the 1 p.m. first showing. Brown said his political stance is "middle-of-the-road" but added that he worries that "it's mainly Democrats who will see it. We really need more Republicans to see it, and those who are in need of being challenged."
   Graham Leonard, a Sullivan County Democrat running for U.S. Congress in the First District, used the opening of the film as an opportunity to campaign for votes. A Kingsport native who has a Ph.D. in linguistics and psychology from Harvard University, Leonard described the film as an overstatement but not untrue. "The film doesn't include enough information on expenditures in the Iraq war, and I wish it had touched on that more," Leonard said. "I'm hoping that it will motivate people to care more about voting when they see what has been done in Iraq in the name of patriotism."
   "Fahrenheit 9/11" is a 116-minute long look at facts which the average citizen might not know about President Bush and his father, former president George H.W. Bush. From family oil ties with the Saudis to an overt financial connection with the bin Laden family, the Bush father and son team, according to Moore, initiated war in Iraq strictly for personal profit, specifically the building of an oil pipeline extending throughout the Middle East.
   The film also documents the lack of sufficient information about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, which the Bush administration agreed did not exist one year prior to the war, and highlights the questionable link between al-Qaeda and Saddam Hussein.
   Johnson City resident, Lynn Scarborough, said she was already angry with the current administration before the film, but, afterward, she was absolutely furious. "I was not at all aware of the connection between Bush and the Saudis. It was a very powerful movie with a lot of truth in it that was presented in a very matter-of-fact way. There was nothing outrageous about it," Scarborough said.
   "It was the best documentary I've ever seen, and every American should be required to see it," said Ed Kelly, a Vietnam veteran who also said he was disturbed by the evident depression in the film among soldiers in Iraq. "I am morally certain that we didn't have to enter this war, and there is nothing harder on a soldier than to realize that he is fighting for a lie."
   The footage in Moore's film includes war scenes in Iraq that involve the killing of women and children as well as shots of U.S. soldiers abusing Iraqi detainees. Also included is an interview with a grief-stricken Flint, Mich., woman (Flint is Moore's hometown) who lost her son, Army Sgt. Michael Pedersen, in a helicopter crash in Iraq.
   Daniel Lamb and friend, Jewel Aldea, stood outside Real to Reel prior to seeing the 9 p.m. showing. "I can't wait to see it," Lamb said. "I hope if people see it they'll see what's going on and vote differently. Those who are afraid that it's controversial, though, probably won't go see it."
   "I was surprised they picked it up here," Aldea said.
   At the Cannes Film Festival last month, a nine-member jury that included four Americans gave Moore the Palme d'Or grand prize.
   The film was released by Lion's Gate Films. It was disclosed in May that Walt Disney CEO Michael Eisner had barred Disney's Miramax Pictures subsidiary from distributing the picture. Miramax co-chairmen Harvey and Bob Weinstein then paid Moore $6 million and scrambled for new distributors. Moore's agent said Disney feared losing tax breaks for its tourist attractions in Florida, where Bush's brother, Jeb Bush, is governor. Disney denied it, saying the film was too partisan.