Filmmaker Michael Moore filmed an interview with American Nicholas Berg in the course of producing his documentary film “Fahrenheit 9/11″ before Berg left for Iraq, where he was taken hostage and killed, Moore confirmed to Salon in a statement Thursday. The 20 minutes of footage does not appear in the final version of “Fahrenheit 911,” according to the statement.
Word of the footage reached Salon through a source unaffiliated with Moore or his film “Fahrenheit 9/11,” which is reported to feature stark images of U.S. civilians and soldiers grappling with conditions in war-torn Iraq, as well as examining the relationship between President George W. Bush and the bin Laden family. It received the Palme d’Or, the Cannes Film Festival’s highest honor, on Saturday.
In a statement widely circulated by Moore’s people after an initial request for comment by Salon, Moore said, “We have an interview with Nick Berg. It was approximately 20 minutes long. We are not releasing it to the media. It is not in the film. We are dealing privately with the family.” Moore’s camp declined to comment further on any aspect of the interview. Because the footage is not in the film, a spokeswoman for Miramax Films, the production company behind “Fahrenheit 9/11,” said the company had no comment.
It was not clear from Moore’s statement whether footage from the interview with Berg had ever been included in early cuts of “Fahrenheit 9/11.” Reports about a film industry controversy surrounding distribution of the film first hit the news on May 5, a week before Berg’s death. The film officially screened for the public and the press for the first time during the Cannes festival on May 17.
The news that Moore spoke to Berg while he was still in the United States only adds to the mystery surrounding the young man’s presence in Iraq and tragic death. The interview was shot before the 26-year-old Berg left for Iraq late last year as a private contractor in the hopes of helping to rebuild the ravaged country. Though it was unclear what Berg spoke about in his interview with Moore, or how the two men met, unrelated reports following his death indicate that he headed for the Middle East with plans to work to improve the country’s technological infrastructure and communication abilities. He ran his own company, Prometheus Methods Tower Service, in a suburb of Philadelphia.
Berg did not find employment in Iraq, and when he attempted to return to the United States he was detained by Iraqi police and questioned by American forces. He was released after his family complained. But shortly after, he is believed to have been kidnapped by Islamic terrorists. Video of his beheading was released on an Islamist Web site on May 11. Salon was unable to reach the Berg family for comment before publication.
Moore’s film chronicles the United States’ military, political and business involvement in the Middle East in the years before and after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. His previous politically charged films, including “Roger & Me” and “Bowling for Columbine,” have created controversy and won him praise (including an Oscar, for “Columbine”). “Fahrenheit 9/11″ has already sparked a media storm; in early May, Miramax’s parent company, Disney, announced that it would not allow Miramax to distribute the film, which is highly critical of Bush and his administration.
Miramax has yet to make a deal with a distributor, though the film’s warm reception at Cannes and the publicity surrounding the film have made it a hot property that is generating a lot of interest in Hollywood. “Bowling for Columbine” grossed $21 million, making it the highest-grossing non-IMAX documentary of all time.
A source close to “Fahrenheit 9/11″ said that a new distributor will be announced shortly, and that the film is expected to be released in theaters during the first week of July, as originally planned.