CANNES, France – Controversial movie maker Michael Moore shook the Cannes Film Festival on Monday by unveiling his anti-Bush documentary to a wildly cheering international audience.

Even those who question Moore’s tactics and fact-checking were moved by portions of “Fahrenheit 9/11” and upset by footage of dead Iraqi babies and humiliation of civilians by American soldiers.

The movie – a potential powder keg in this fall’s presidential election – got a clamorous 20-minute standing ovation at its first public screening here.

Reaction to the movie in the United States undoubtedly will be more mixed, with heated opposition to Moore’s depiction of President Bush as a simple-minded son of privilege who was “asleep at the wheel.”

But here in France, which refused to help in the war against Iraq and where anti-Bush sentiment is high, Moore was greeted as a hero.

The long ovation was unprecedented in recent Cannes history, according to Thierry Fremaux, the festival’s artistic director.

“They actually exploded out of their seats with screams and applause and shouting before the last shot finished on the screen,” said the movie’s French publicist.

“Fahrenheit 9/11” opens with a recap of the 2000 presidential race and the furor over the Florida vote. “Was it all just a dream?” Moore ponders. “Did the last four years even happen?”

The atrocities of Sept. 11, 2001, play out without any scenes of planes hitting the World Trade Center or the Pentagon – only sounds of the planes slamming into the towers are heard as the film fades to black.

Suddenly, the screen is filled with tearful faces and a slo-mo cloud of ash and debris that followed the buildings’ collapse.

There are horrifying images from Iraq, comments from soldiers there expressing disillusionment with the war and mocking examples of Bush mangling words during speeches.

The movie is considered so controversial that Walt Disney Co. blocked its Miramax Division from releasing the film. Miramax officers Harvey and Robert Weinstein then bought it from Disney and are looking for another U.S. distributor.

Moore accepted the accolades at Cannes with numerous “Thank you’s,” inviting his movie crew to climb over seats so they could join him in the limelight.

“This is not a film about Bush,” Moore said. “This is about the larger issues. … This film pulls back the layers, like Toto pulling back the curtain. The Americans who see this movie are going to be in shock and in awe and will respond accordingly.”

His scorn was not reserved for Bush; the movie also takes swipes at ineffectual Democrats and the media.

Moore lambasted American journalists this week for “boring him,” and he used a Kermit the Frog voice to ridicule Mel Gibson’s production company for backing out of its initial deal to fund “Fahrenheit 9/11.”

(c) 2004, New York Daily News.

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Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.


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AP-NY-05-18-04 0828EDT

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