Harper would `like this to be 51st State'

Filmmaker hopes his movie sways vote


Firebrand filmmaker Michael Moore hopes his controversial new work Fahrenheit 9/11 will help stop Conservative Leader Stephen Harper from becoming Prime Minister, along with throwing U.S. President George W. Bush out of office.

Moore came to Toronto last night for the Canadian premiere of his Palme d'Or-winning film, which opens in theatres June 25 and which scorches the Bush administration for its handling of the 9/11 terrorist attacks and the U.S.-led wars in Afghanistan and Iraq that followed them.

And he brought with him a warning that if Canadians swing to the right by electing Harper on June 28, as polls suggest might happen, then dire consequences will follow.

"I can't believe that you guys would think about going in that direction, when we're trying to get out of that direction," Moore told the Star, shortly before heading to the Varsity Cinemas to make a red-carpet arrival at the screening.

"I hope this doesn't happen. Bush is going to throw a party (after the Canadian election). He's going to be a happy man. (Harper) has a big pair of scissors in his hand. He wants to snip away at your social safety net. He'd like this to be the 51st State."

Moore doesn't let the Liberals off the hook, blaming them for creating the mood in Canada where a Conservative government seems plausible.

"They moved to the right (under Martin), which then validated the right."

Moore, 50, has always loved Canada and followed politics here avidly even before his first film, Roger & Me, made him the star of the 1989 Toronto International Film Festival.

He praised former Prime Minister Jean Chrétien for refusing last year to join Bush's "Coalition of the Willing" in the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq. He regrets not giving Chrétien credit for his bravery in Fahrenheit 9/11, much of which takes a critical look at the Iraq invasion and the Bush family's ties to terrorist leader Osama bin Laden.

Moore has become much more serious about his political views, so much so that Disney attempted to stop its subsidiary Miramax Films from releasing Fahrenheit 9/11, for fear of upsetting Bush supporters.

The surprise Palme d'Or win last month in Cannes helped Moore find other distributors, including Canadian firms Alliance Atlantis and Lions Gate.

Fahrenheit 9/11 has become one of the year's hottest properties. There have been reports Stateside of right-wing attempts to block or limit distribution of the film, and at least one death threat has been reported against an exhibitor.

Despite all that, Fahrenheit 9/11 is still expected to roll out on hundreds of screens in North America on June 25. That includes 55 in Canada, but the Canadian tally will rise to 140 within two weeks.

Moore said the distributors here originally thought of delaying the release of Fahrenheit 9/11 until after the Canadian federal election, to avoid influencing the outcome — even though the film makes almost no mention of Canada.

"And I said, no, no, no. Even if it's just four days before the election, you've got to get something out there to inspire people to do the right thing here.

"This movie should say to Canadians, you want to join the Coalition of the Willing? Get ready to send your kids over to die for nothing, so that Bush's buddies can line their pockets."

Fahrenheit 9/11 is unrelenting in its criticism of Bush, beginning with his controversial victory over Democratic challenger Al Gore in the 2000 election, a vote that was finally decided by the Republican-dominated Supreme Court.

The film makes powerful connections between the Bush family and with Saudi Arabian oil interests, including the family of Sept. 11 terrorist leader Osama bin Laden. Fahrenheit 9/11 is also unstinting in its depiction of the brutality of war, showing grisly scenes of the Iraqi conflict not widely seen on U.S. TV, including the recent desecration of American bodies in Falluja.

"I can't take it any more," Moore said. "That's really the bottom line. I can't stand what Bush has done from the get-go."

But Moore insists that Fahrenheit 9/11 and his vigorous promotional campaigns are meant simply to goad people into getting involved in politics and taking a stand on important issues. They're not a personal vendetta against George W. Bush.

"No, not at all. In fact, if anything, I am grateful to the Bush family. If it weren't for them, I wouldn't be a filmmaker. Bush's first cousin, Kevin Rafferty, taught me how to make movies. He was a documentary filmmaker who made The Atomic Café. He shot most of Roger & Me for me ... So if it weren't for a member of the Bush family, I wouldn't have maybe gotten into this.

"I feel badly for George W. I don't think he ever wanted to be president.... He's a frat boy, ne'er-do-well living off daddy's largesse. I want to help him back to that life so he's happier."