Moore: Disney blocking film about Bush

Filmmaker makes charges on his Web site Wednesday, May 5, 2004 Posted: 1344 GMT (2144 HKT),  comments in green.

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M oore: "If I have anything to say about it, you'll see it this summer."

NEW YORK (CNN) -- Oscar-winning documentary filmmaker Michael Moore said the Walt Disney Company has blocked distribution of his new film critical of U.S. President George W. Bush.

The film -- which links Bush with powerful Saudi families, including that of Osama bin Laden -- is set to debut at the Cannes Film Festival in France later this month.

In a letter posted on his Web site Wednesday, Moore said, "Yesterday I was told that Disney, the studio that owns Miramax, has officially decided to prohibit our producer, Miramax, from distributing my new film, 'Fahrenheit 9/11.'

"The reason? According to today's edition of The New York Times, it might 'endanger' millions of dollars of tax breaks Disney receives from the state of Florida because the film will 'anger' the governor of Florida, Jeb Bush."

The New York Times and Hollywood trade paper Daily Variety said in their Wednesday editions that Disney had moved to prevent its Miramax Films unit from distributing "Fahrenheit 9/11."

The Times quoted a Miramax spokesman as saying that the company was "discussing the issue with Disney. We're looking at all of our options and look forward to resolving this amicably."

But the paper said Disney isn't willing to budge on the issue.

"We advised both (Moore's) agent and Miramax in May of 2003 that the film would not be distributed by Miramax," said Zenia Mucha, a company spokeswoman.

Officials from Miramax and Disney were not immediately available for comment Wednesday morning.

The Disney edict could herald the bloodiest political battle yet between Miramax's feisty co-chairman Harvey Weinstein and Disney CEO Michael Eisner, who oversaw the purchase of Miramax a decade ago, Daily Variety said.

Rumors had been circulating of a July release date in North America, but the film does not appear on Miramax's summer schedule, the paper said.

Independent stock analyst Dennis McAlpine said there has always been a tension between Miramax and Disney since the media conglomerate bought the independent studio in 1993.

"They've done their own thing for the most part. Disney has been content to leave them alone and give them money and pull in all the Academy Awards," said McAlpine.

McAlpine said that he could see Miramax releasing the film under a separate label, as it has done with some controversial films in the past. The controversy and attention the battle is getting will help draw viewers to the film, he said.

Moore's agent, Ari Emanuel, told the Times that Eisner asked him last spring to pull out of the deal with Miramax.

Emanuel said Eisner expressed particular concern that it would endanger tax breaks Disney receives for its theme park, hotels and other ventures in Florida, where Bush's brother, Jeb Bush, is governor.

The Times reported that Disney executives denied that allegation. One executive told the paper it did not want to be seen taking sides in the election and risk alienating customers of different political views.

"It's not in the interest of any major corporation to be dragged into a highly charged partisan political battle," said the executive, who was not identified by the paper.

But Moore said he believed the protection of tax cuts was the reason for the media conglomerate's position, and that he has been fighting to keep the project alive for more than a year.

"The whole story behind this (and other attempts) to kill our movie will be told in more detail as the days and weeks go on," Moore said on his Web site.

"For nearly a year, this struggle has been a lesson in just how difficult it is in this country to create a piece of art that might upset those in charge (well, OK, sorry -- it WILL upset them ... big time. Did I mention it's a comedy?).

"All I can say is, thank God for Harvey Weinstein (Miramax founder) and Miramax who have stood by me during the entire production of this movie.

"I will tell you this: Some people may be afraid of this movie because of what it will show. But there's nothing they can do about it now because it's done, it's awesome, and if I have anything to say about it, you'll see it this summer -- because, after all, it is a free country."

Moore won an Oscar for best documentary feature at last year's Academy Awards for his film "Bowling for Columbine." His acceptance speech, in which he lit into Bush, the 2000 election and the Iraq war, earned applause as well as boos.

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