Depending on the zip code, Fahrenheit 9/11 runs hot or cold

Published July 7, 2004 6:15PM (EDT)

Fahrenheit 9/11, now a documentary blockbuster, is still having a hard time making it onto screens in areas less inclined to agree with Michael Moore. In Georgia, the Gwinnett Daily Post reports that only theaters in Democratic-leaning areas are playing the film. "Theater companies are trying to maximize box office sales by catering to those attitudes, and the result is that the movie is overwhelmingly landing in suburban, metro or college cities. In Georgia, the only theaters outside metro Atlanta showing the movie are in the state's five next largest cities and Gainesville.

"'Go look at the voting pattern for the last governor's race, and it would probably give you a pretty good idea of where we're showing it,' said Bill Stembler, president of the Georgia Theatre Company, which is playing the movie in three of its 26 theaters in the state. 'In mid-sized and smaller markets, it was our assessment that it would not play particularly well there.'

"GTC originally showed the film in two suburban Atlanta markets, but opened it in Athens on Friday after deciding it would do well in a college town, Stembler said. 'It's more of a Democrat-leaning market,' Stembler said of Athens. 'You make value judgments. This is done every week in our business.'"

In Utah, one of the Reddest states out there, even theaters playing Moore's documentary seem to be disenchanted with the movie. The Salt Lake Tribune reports: "Moviegoers at the Jordan Landing Cinemark movies in West Jordan received a unique greeting Monday from the ticket taker if they purchased tickets to Fahrenheit 9/11.

"To each patron, he called out: 'Vote for Bush.' When queried, he said he was following instructions from management."

"Terrell Falk, marketing vice president for Cinemark, based in Plano, Texas, was surprised by the news and said lobbying customers for Bush was not a company policy. She was still trying to get through to the West Jordan complex as of late Tuesday to find out what they were thinking.

"Meanwhile: The Redstone 8 Cinemas at Kimball Junction placed a disclaimer under its Fahrenheit 9/11 listings that stated: 'The playing of Fahrenheit 9/11 does not necessarily represent the views of ownership or management.'

"One letter to the editor in The Park Record asked if the lack of disclaimers meant the ownership does agree with the views of 'White Chicks' and 'DodgeBall.'"

Finally, Entertainment Weekly reports that Fahrenheit 9/11 is also getting frigid reception from some movie chains in the Midwest: "Fahrenheit 9/11 may be breaking documentary box office records all over America, but one Iowa-based theater chain refuses to book it because it allegedly provides aid and comfort to anti-American terrorists. According to the Associated Press, R.L. Fridley, who owns the Fridley chain of 34 theaters across Iowa and Nebraska, won't book Fahrenheit, citing a policy that his chain will not 'play political propaganda films from either the right or the left.' So Fridley wrote in a companywide e-mail, AP reports, adding that he believes the Michael Moore film plays into the hands of the terrorists behind the 9/11 attacks and those behind the recent beheadings of Americans in the Middle East. 'I believe this film emboldens them and divides our country even more,' Fridley wrote.

"Variety reports that another Midwest chain, GKC Theaters, has booked the film on just one of its 268 screens, in Traverse City, Mich., and will not expand the booking to its other screens, which are mostly in Michigan and Illinois. Execs at GKC, the country's 15th-largest chain, had political objections to the film similar to Fridley's, Variety reports, though there's been no official statement commenting on the booking decision. There was no indication, however, that either Fridley or GKC made their decisions in response to the e-mail campaign launched by Move America Forward, a conservative group whose supporters have called for a boycott of chains that book Moore's movie. On June 26, the day after the film opened to a packed house in Traverse City, GKC vice president Bryan Jeffries said most people who had contacted the chain wanted it to show Fahrenheit. 'I would say that the ratio has been 5-1 in favor of bringing the movie, but that doesn't surprise me,' he told the Traverse City Record Eagle. 'The people against it are probably ignoring it and wishing it would go away and I think that makes sense.'

By Stephen W. Stromberg

Stephen W. Stromberg is a former editorial fellow at Salon.

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