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Fahrenheit 9/11

...because you either kind of love him or really, really, really hate him – but Michael Moore is one of the most effective storytellers in documentary film. In "Fahrenheit 9/11," he unleashed his humorous, Midwestern everyman persona to criticize the George W. Bush administration's response to the September 11th terrorist attacks. Moore dealt with massive political backlash and a fight to distribute the film, but "Fahrenheit 9/11" also won the Palme d'Or at Cannes on its way to becoming the highest grossing documentary of all time. In addition to blending comedy with outrage, the film also "turned the camera on the cameras" to show how the mass media obscured the truth for the American public, making the case for non-fiction films as an alternative to news narratives.



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No one ever became a documentary filmmaker to make money, but Michael Moore has defied the odds. "Fahrenheit 9/11" also provides a good example of how to turn lemons into profitable lemonade. Moore's reputation as both a filmmaker and political lightning rod was well established by 2004; he had already accused the Bush administration of lying in his Best Documentary Oscar acceptance speech the previous year. When Disney wouldn't allow Miramax to distribute the movie, the film's backers used this as a promotional campaign. Sympathy for the film's status carried over into the Cannes festival, which awarded Moore its prestigious top prize. As the 2004 presidential election began to heat up, no film appeared to be more important or of the moment than "Fahrenheit 9/11." Eventually, a compromise agreement pushed the film into theaters where it broke documentary box office records, earning millions in profit percentage for the director.

Michael Moore can divide his audience. And back in the dark ages of 2004, American politics was already polarized on issues ranging from Janet Jackson's nipple to the Iraq War. It's no surprise then that "Fahrenheit 9/11" led to very differing reactions from audiences and critics. While some viewed Moore and the film as championing the common man against The Man, others believed it committed cinematic treason in a time of war. Some even accused Moore of distorting the truth, the very same claim the film was making against the Bush administration and mainstream media. Yet the film really shows how Moore can be both documentary cinema's best storyteller and political cinema's best commentator at the same time. His use of images that he creates or culls from media sources builds a compelling charge against the Bush administration that also constructs a coherent storyline from the disputed 2000 election to the Iraq War.

The most common accusation against "Fahrenheit 9/11" is that the film is left-wing propaganda. Traditionally, propaganda like the early Soviet films or "The Triumph of the Will" allowed those in power to justify their status as rulers of a nation. Moore's clearly stated intention in making "Fahrenheit 9/11" was to challenge the Bush administration and criticize its leadership of the country. However, Moore is certainly not an impartial observer, but advances a political opinion throughout the film both directly and indirectly. This raises the more interesting question about whether documentary filmmakers should – or even can – be objective towards their subjects. Considering how Moore's film mocks the so-called unbiased reporting of mainstream journalists at the time, it seems clear what his answer to this question would be.

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