Fahrenheit 9/11 Revisited

Fahrenheit 9/11 Revisited

It’s Friday outside the Sunrise Cinemas in Tampa. The line at the box office stretches out to the sidewalk, curves around the Wine Exchange and disappears around the corner. People are flocking to the theater from as far away as Gainesville to see Michael Moore’s new film, Fahrenheit 9/11. Inside the lobby, MoveOn.org, Kerry for President, Florida 537 and community radio station WMNF have outreach tables set up. Every showing of the film is sold out. When the movie ends, people spill into the lobby; some look stunned, some are crying and small groups mill about talking. A man walks over to the WMNF table where I’m passing out bumper stickers and program guides and tells me that he voted for Bush last time, but he’s going to work for John Kerry this time.

I didn’t see Fahrenheit 9/11 on opening night. I waited until Sunday to let the crowds thin out a bit. Watching the film was an emotional rollercoaster. Some of the scenes were hilarious. George W. Bush is a great comedian, even when he isn’t trying. Some scenes were heartbreaking. The scenes of an Iraqi mother railing at God for letting bombs hit her home and the Flint mother reading a letter from her son who died in Iraq set off tears. I wandered out of the theater in a daze.

Like all of Michael Moore’s films, Fahrenheit 9/11 provokes strong reaction. A newspaper columnist called the film “Unfairenheit 9/11” Another opinion piece was titled “Michael Moore Should Just Shut Up.” Radio pundits are calling the film fiction and promise rebuttal documentaries. That’s fine. Freedom of speech means you can disagree with anyone.

Michael Moore would probably agree that Fahrenheit 9/11 isn’t “fair” to George W. Bush. The film is a scathing critique of the man and his administration. The movie begins with a review of the irregularities that brought Bush to the White House. The first really startling image of the film shows members of the House Black Caucus attempting to object to the certification of the election results. Representative after Representative rise to register objections but without a Senator to cosign, the objections are not entered. I thought I’d followed the election fiasco fairly closely and I don’t remember hearing anything about this event.

The film raises a lot of questions. Did Bush’s close personal and financial ties to the Saudi ruling family influence his response to 9/11? Why were Saudis, including members of the Bin Laden family, allowed to fly out of the country when all other aircraft were grounded? Why was the administration hell-bent on going to war with Iraq when there was no credible evidence of Iraqi involvement in the 9/11 attacks? Was the war in Iraq really about rooting out terrorism, or was that a pretext? Moore has his opinion on all of these issues, of course. I’m sure you can tell that I do as well. If you see the movie, I’m sure you will have a strong opinion too. You may not agree with Moore, but you will have an opinion.

I think Fahrenheit 9/11 is most powerful when putting a human face on the war in Iraq. War has terrible costs. The film shows the devastation wrought on both American and Iraqi families. It shows the pain and suffering of the survivors. We see American soldiers and Iraqi civilians maimed in the fighting. We see a mother in Baghdad and a mother in Flint cry for their lost children. Neither mother knows why their child had to die. These are disturbing images. They remind us that real wars have real costs. I don’t think it is unpatriotic to question an administration for putting soldiers in harm’s way. If we, as a nation, are going to commit to armed conflict, I’d like to believe that all other options have been exhausted. Were the non-military options even considered regarding Iraq?

Will Fahrenheit 9/11 influence the 2004 elections? It’s way too soon to tell. There is some evidence that it might. On the Monday after the movie opened, MoveOn.org hosted “Turn Up the Heat: A National Town Meeting.” In Tampa, more than 300 people crowded into Viva La Frida’s in Seminole Heights. The event centered on a national conference call with Michael Moore with Move On encouraging people to get involved in the campaign to oust Bush. Before the event really started a thunder storm erupted, sending people scurrying for cover. What was really interesting was the fact that so few people left. Most of the people who were motivated to come to the event, braved the bad weather and stayed for the conference call. Moore told the gatherings that he’s more optimistic than he’s been in 3.5 years. Most of the people who were motivated to brave the rain and lightning turned in their volunteer forms for Move On.

Back in April of 2002, I suggested in this column that Michael Moore should run for President on the Green Party ticket. I made the suggestion not because I thought Moore would make a good president, but because he is a provocateur who can get people to talk about the issues. Well, Moore knows his strengths better than I do. Love it or hate it, Fahrenheit 9/11 will get people talking.

Michael Moore: www.michaelmoore.com

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