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Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11 Wins Palme d'Or at Cannes Film Festival
Michael Moore

Fahrenheit 9/11 Takes Cannes' Palme d'Or

By Antoine du Rocher

CANNES, 24 May 2004—American filmmaker Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11 was awarded the Palme d'Or on Saturday at the 2004 Cannes Film Festival. Fahrenheit 9/11 was the first documentary to win the top prize since Jacques Cousteau's 1956 The Silent World. In his acceptance speech Moore gushed:

"I can't begin to express my appreciation and my gratitude to the jury, the Festival, to Gilles Jacob, Thierry Frémaux, Bob and Harvey at Miramax, to all of the crew who worked on the film. [...] I have a sneaking suspicion that what you have done here and the response from everyone at the festival, you will assure that the American people will see this film. I can't thank you enough for that. You've put a huge light on this and many people want the truth and many want to put it in the closet, just walk away. There was a great Republican president who once said, if you just give the people the truth, the republicans, the Americans will be saved. [...] I dedicate this Palme d'Or to my daughter, to the children of Americans and to Iraq and to all those in the world who suffer from our actions. "

Perhaps in response to those who suggested that the jury cared more about the film's politics than Moore's artistic contribution, Gilles Jacob broke with precedent, giving the jury an opportunity to explain their Palme d'Or award choices.

Quentin Tarantino: "Judging a film by its politics is a bad thing. If it wasn't some of the best filmmaking, then I would not have chosen it. [...] You can't strangle this movie with the title documentary. Michael Moore is fucking with the format to bring us a movie-documentary-critical essay."

Tilda Swinton: "One of the reasons it is radical in its politics is because of its relation to the media. It starts and ends with a question. It is sophisticated cinema. It wouldn't have served its political end if it wasn't a good piece of filmmaking. He has matured as a filmmaker since Bowling for Columbine. [...] It is not a film about Bush, nor Iraq but rather the system. In the words of Godard, ‘we spend so much time looking for the key to the problem; we need to begin looking for the lock.'"

Benoît Poelvoorde: "We had long and passionate debates. We put the politics aside so as to talk film. We are not here to give a morality lesson. [...] Fahrenheit 9/11 is a political tract. His unique viewpoint is not a problem for me since we have the possibility to inform ourselves elsewhere and also listen to other opinions."

Many judges also addressed the unusual decision to grant the award to a documentary.

Kathleen Turner: "We felt it was more than a documentary. We believe this film creates its own category and that's why it stands apart." Jerry Schatzberg: "I had to get over the mix of genres, to open my mind to animations, documentaries along side fiction. [...] Michael Moore has given us a film that makes you think in different ways."

Edwidge Danticat: "What struck me most was that I was laughing one minute, sobbing the next. I was taken to emotional heights. It let the voices speak for themselves, voices that are otherwise silent."

Tilda Swinton: "The things Michael Moore says cannot be said on the media of TV. What he has to say has to be seen at the cinema. Who would have thought that cinema could get stretched this far."

In a 17 May press conference, Moore defended his work as both worthy film-making and political action, saying: ”When I make a movie, it's a movie I'd like to see on a Friday night." [...] I wanted to say something about post-9/11 in America: What's happened to us as a people. This time I was the straight man and Bush had all the jokes. [...] And I hope it will influence people leaving the theatre, encourage them to be good citizens.”

The American filmmaker anticipates that his work will shock and surprise American audiences when they first see it, and will have real political impact in this year of the presidental election and the Abu Ghraib prisoner abuse scandal:
”They will see things never seen before, starting with Bush's military record, both the year 2000 original document and the 2004 document that has the name James R. Bath blackened. [...] You saw the first abuse segments of Iraqi detainees outside of prison walls; you were the first to see that today. [...] The American people don't like things being kept from them and this film will pull back the curtain on what is going on and they will respond accordingly.”

As if the film did not speak eloquently enough for itself, Moore left little doubt about his feelings about the current administration, saying, ”We have a president asleep at the wheel. [...] If you have the role of commander in chief, you should pay more attention. I would have tracked down the people responsible for 9/11 and I would bring them down. Why hold back Special Forces for two months? What's going on?”

Disney, the parent company of Miramax, has blocked the release of the film in the U.S.. Moore, however, remains committed to finding some means of having the film distributed theatrically, and in time to affect the election: ”No, it will not be first seen on television; it was made for the screen...It will be released in the US before the election. I am confident that Miramax will make sure they see this film [...] Miramax has made available the funds and money – before the film comes out - to update it if needed in the next six weeks. It is however a finished film.”

Related: Festival de Cannes Web Site

Culturekiosque at the Festival de Cannes

Antoine du Rocher is a French cultural journalist and writer based in New York. He is also a member of the editorial board of

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