A NEW film is sending shockwaves through the United States in general and the White House in particular - and it hasn't even been released yet. Fahrenheit 9/11, which this week got the longest standing ovation in Cannes Film Festival history, tells what its director Michael Moore sees as the truth behind the war in Iraq and on terror. It is said to be so powerful it could tip November's US presidential election against George W Bush.
Moore's anti-Bush documentary was received rapturously at its black-tie screening here Monday, and a friend told [Roger Ebert] the ovation lasted 25 minutes. The ovation lasted 20 minutes, according to Variety, which may be correct, because its reporters all carry stopwatches to check the running times of movies. In any event it was "the longest ovation in the history of the festival," according to Thierry Fremaux, the festival's director.
I guess Old Europe likes what they see - The Truth.
"Just ask them what they think of us. That's all Americans care about."
Now an American has to be a masochist to ask that question in Europe. The worst I heard this time was while listening to a live interview with Italians who were asked about Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's visit to Washington last week and his statement that he was there as "America's best friend."
"He's not America's best friend," said a professor from Rome. "He's George Bush's best friend -- and that's not the same thing."
A trio of young marketing executives, speaking good English, were asked the same question. The first two said they loved America and hated what America was doing around the world.
The third, a woman, said: "You think we'd know better. This has happened to us before. Mussolini wanted to be the best friend of the most powerful man in the world 70 years ago -- and look what that did to us."
I [author Richard Reeves] had just come from London, our closest ally in the war against terror and our disastrous war of choice against Iraq. President Bush's real foreign best friend, British Prime Minister Tony Blair, seems on the verge of losing his job. Privately, it is said, he believes that "the coalition" -- the American and British forces that invaded Iraq -- has only about 100 days to make the world believe that they did the right and bright thing.
Private life. For him. And probably for his friend Bush as well.
The latest Sunday Times poll in England indicates that just about half of voting respondents believe Blair should quit now. More than 90 percent responded that he is "damaged" by his alliance with the Americans, with more than two-thirds of them saying "hugely damaged." Only 23 percent said they believed Britain should remain a "wholehearted" ally of the Americans.
More damaging, perhaps, in a newspaper that supported a British role in Bush's war, The Times' cartoonist, Gerald Scarfe, shows a booted Bush mockingly pointing toward a naked Blair's private parts. "Prisoner of War Forced to Humiliate Himself" is the caption.
"There is a pattern here," begins the lead editorial of the paper once called The Thunderer. "Mr. Blair has made no public criticism of America's postwar strategy in Iraq. He has been mealy-mouthed in his criticism of U.S. prisoner abuses."
"We have always argued that to call the prime minister Mr. Bush's poodle was silly. In the past few weeks Mr. Blair has been doing his best to prove us wrong."
The quote that sticks with me from European coverage was not by anyone you've ever heard of; it came from a 24-year-old lieutenant from South Carolina, Erik Illif, who said: "We wonder what people back home think of us. Will it be like Vietnam, where everyone who fought there is labeled a baby killer?"
Well, if young women on the streets of Rome are comparing our president to Hitler, they probably are going to see the rest of us as brutes and thugs who ignored the obvious at home and unthinkingly followed orders in dehumanizing prisons and other symbols of military occupation far from home.
Here in France, the American whose ideas and actions are most covered and admired, it seems, is not President Bush, but filmmaker Michael Moore. His anti-Bush film, "Fahrenheit 9/11," is the talk not only of the annual film festival in Cannes, but in all the rest of the country, too. The Cannes preview audience for the premiere stood and applauded for 20 minutes as the film ended.
These are the 10 killer questions the film poses.
1, AFTER the 9/11 attacks, why was the only plane to fly out of the US carrying 24 members of Osama bin Laden's family?
IN the wake of the attacks, the US became a no-fly zone. Moore asks: "Why did Bush allow a private Saudi jet to fly around the US in the days after September 11 to pick up members of the bin Laden family and fly them out of the country without a proper FBI investigation? Might it have been possible that at least one of the 24 bin Ladens would have known something?"
2, ARE the media covering up abuse of Iraqi prisoners and the disillusionment of American troops?
MOORE'S film shows soldiers hooding and mistreating Iraqi detainees, and even shows troops taking it in turns to sexually abuse a drunk elderly man. He says: "This occurred outside the Abu Ghraib prison walls. The media is there every single day. Why haven't they seen this? I don't think we've heard American soldiers in the field talk as they do in this film about their disillusionment and their despair; about their questioning of what was going on."
3, IS Bush deliberately creating a culture of fear to get poor American youth to fight his war?
MOORE accuses the Bush administration of deliberately creating a climate of fear, particularly by the instigation of the Department of Homeland Security, to increase numbers signing up for the armed forces. He calls this "the immoral act of sending kids to war on the basis of a lie".
4, HOW deep does the connection between the Bush family and bin Laden family actually run?
MOORE exposes business links between the bin Ladens and the Bushes over the last 25 years. Bush Snr became a highly paid consultant for the Carlyle Group, one of the nation's largest defence contractors. One of the investors in Carlyle - to the tune of at least $2million (£1.2m) - was the bin Laden family. The campaigner says: "The bin Laden family have extensive dealings with large companies in the US. They have donated $2m to Bush's alma mater, Harvard. They own property in Texas, Florida and Massachusetts. In short, they have their hands deep in our pants."
5, JUST how sinister was the White House's doctoring of Bush's military record?
MOORE suggests that, far from being simply an exercise in proving that Bush attended to his Texas Air National Guard duties, the White House version also sought to hide evidence that Bush and his associates had close ties with various Saudi oil companies. He also suggests that a former military pal of Bush's, James R Bath, once sold a plane to the bin Laden family.
6, DID Bush miss an opportunity to nail bin Laden during secret talks with the Taliban?
MOORE claims that while Bush was governor of Texas he built a relationship with the Taliban rulers of Afghanistan. They met in Texas to discuss a project to build a natural gas pipeline from Turkmenistan through Taliban-controlled Afghanistan and into Pakistan.
Representatives of the Bush administration met the Taliban in the summer of 2001. Moore says they ignored the bin Laden issue and were pre-occupied with oil. He asks: "Was Bush discussing their offer to hand over bin Laden? Was he threatening them with force? Was he discussing a new pipeline?"
7, WHY does the Bush family have a "special relationship" with the Saudi royal family?
"MORE than 1.5 million barrels of oil needed in the US daily from the Saudis could vanish on a royal whim, so we begin to see how not only Bush, but all of us, are dependent on the House of Saud," says Moore. "This can't be good for national security."
Moore also refers to Prince Bandar bin Sultan, the Saudi ambassador to the US, who is nicknamed Bandar Bush because of his close links with the president. Despite increasing evidence linking the September 11 atrocity to Saudi militants, Bush still met Prince Bandar for dinner two days later.
8, WAS Bush spending too much time on holiday to concentrate on terrorism?
BUSH was on holiday for 42 per cent of the eight months before September 11, letting his guard down, according to Moore. At a 9/11 commission hearing, CIA director George Tenet admitted he had known since August 2001 that Zacarias Moussaoui, the only man charged in connection with 9/11, had been taking lessons on how to fly a 747. Tenet claimed he didn't tell Bush because the president, "was on vacation".
9, DID Bush panic when he was told about the attack on the twin towers?
ON the morning of September 11, President Bush was posing for cameras at a children's literacy event in Florida.
Moore has previously unseen footage showing the rabbit-in-car-headlights expression on the president's face when he is told about the second plane hitting the twin towers.
A stopwatch appears in the corner of the screen, as the minutes tick by and the president keeps reading My Pet Goat, not knowing what to do without his advisers to tell him.
Moore says: "Was Bush thinking he should have taken reports the CIA had given him the month before more seriously? That he had been told al-Qaeda was planning attacks in the US and planes would possibly be used. Or was he scared witless?"
10, DID Bush manipulate the major US media companies to fix his 2000 election win?
BUSH'S cousin John Ellis, a Fox News executive, was instrumental in "calling it" for Bush/Cheney on election night and cowed the other networks into joining in. This confusion helped set the scene for the debacle that ended in his election despite Al Gore winning the popular majority.,/blockquote>
At the start of Fahrenheit 9/11, the major players are seen smirking and preening themselves. "Here they are," Moore narrates, "the whole corrupt gang who fixed the 2000 election.""You see so many movies after they've been hyped to heaven and they turn out to be complete crap, but this is a powerful film," Baz Bamigboye, a film columnist for London's Daily Mail newspaper, told The Associated Press.
"It would be a shame if Americans didn't get to see this movie about important stuff happening in their own backyard."
James Rocchi, film critic for DVD rental company Netflix, said "Fahrenheit 9/11" contains powerful segments about losses on both sides of the Iraq war and the grief of American and Iraqi families."
"This film is at its best when it is most direct and speaks from the heart, when it shows lives torn apart," Rocchi told AP.Moore talks with Lila Lipscomb of Flint during her daily routine, hanging an American flag in front of her house. He returns later as Lipscomb heart-wrenchingly reads the final letter from her son, Michael Pedersen, killed in action in Iraq. Her patriotism turned to bitterness against the federal government, Lipscomb journeys to Washington, D.C. Near the end of Fahrenheit 9/11, Lipscomb stands before the White House and says:
"I finally have a place to put all my pain and anger."The film shows the raw emotion of Lila Lipscomb, doubled up with grief outside the White House as she contemplates the death of her soldier son in Iraq. In one of the most moving scenes, she reads out the last letter received from him before his death. Telling how she collapsed on hearing the news over the phone, she said:
"Your flesh just aches. You're not supposed to bury your own son."
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