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Siraj Syed

Siraj Syed is the India Correspondent for and a member of FIPRESCI, the International Federation of Film Critics. He is a Film Festival Correspondent since 1976, Film-critic since 1969 and a Feature-writer since 1970. He is also an acting and dialogue coach. 



Movie memories, by Siraj Syed—Fahrenheit 9/11(2004): Burning topics

Movie memories, by Siraj Syed—Fahrenheit 9/11(2004): Burning topics

Fahrenheit 9/11 was released on DVD and VHS videotape on October 5, 2004, which is when I must have acquired my copy. Within a few days, the film broke records for the highest-selling documentary ever. About two million copies were sold/rented on the first day.

A companion book too was released, The Official Fahrenheit 9/11 Reader, containing the complete screenplay, maker Michael Moore's sources, audience e-mails about the film, film reviews, and articles. Those were the days of George W. Bush and Bill Clinton, and we are now in the age of Donald Trump. Fahrenheit 9/11 remains relevant, even today, largely because there has been no end to the fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq.

It begins by suggesting that friends and allies of George W. Bush at Fox News Channel (Saudi Arabian investors are major share-holders at Fox) tilted the US presidential election of 2000 by prematurely declaring Bush the winner. It then suggests the handling of the voting controversy in Florida constituted election fraud, concluding that Bush was elected illegally.

Moore provides evidence that Bush was informed of the first plane hitting the World Trade Center while on his way to an elementary school. Bush is then shown sitting in a Florida classroom, with children. When told that a second plane has hit the World Trade Center and that the nation is "under attack", Bush allows the students to finish their book reading, and Moore demonstrates that he continued reading for nearly seven minutes.

Fahrenheit then analyses the complex relationships between the U.S. government and the Bush family; and between the father and son Bush and Osama bin Laden family, the Saudi Arabian government, and the Taliban, which span over three decades. Moore alleges that the United States government evacuated 24 members of the bin Laden family on a secret flight shortly after the attacks, without subjecting them to any form of interrogation.

It is a long film, at 122 minutes, and an investigative documentary at that, so it is best viewed without knowing too much of the facts and evidence. Such films--and Fahrenheit 9/11 is no exception--use the mystery-thriller approach as their narrative format. There could hardly be a more volatile topic than America’s role in the Iraq/Afghanistan war and its insensitivity to the troops that fought in a foreign land for a cause that turned out to be no cause at all. Moore find common people, paraplegic war veterans, families of those killed in action and footage that is priceless. No wonder then that it had a 20 minute standing ovation after the screening and bagged the Best Film ‘Palme d’Or’ prize at Cannes, 2005.

Michael Moore was born in Flint, Michigan in1954. He started in print journalism and was briefly the editor of Mother Jones magazine. His debut film, Roger & Me, became the highest-grossing American documentary of all time. Moore had a short-lived political series called TV Nation, and his film Bowling for Columbine (2003; my DVD has this film together with Fahrenheit 9/11), won an Academy Award for Best documentary.

The director's acceptance speech included a very Moore-like statement against the war with Iraq. "We live in a time where we have a man sending us to war for fictitious reasons. We are against this war, Mr. Bush. Shame on you!" The film was also awarded the Special 55th Anniversary Prize at the 2002 Cannes Film Festival. In 2004, The Walt Disney Company banned Miramax from distributing Moore's documentary Fahrenheit 9/11, and, when it eventually hit theatres in June, through Lionsgate Films, it became the first documentary to conquer the weekend box office. Made at a cost of USD6milion, it grossed a total of USD222+ million.

It is written by Moore himself. Two other credits are vital to a film of this nature: music and editing. Along documentary can become boring without effective voice-overs and mood music. Also, sifting through thousands of documents, images, audio and video recordings can be a Herculean task. All due credit goes to composer Jeff Gibbs, and editors Kurt Engfehr, T. Woody Richman and Christopher Seward.

The title of the film is derived from Ray Bradbury's 1953 novel, Fahrenheit 451, a dystopian view of the future United States, drawing an analogy between the auto-ignition temperature of paper (Americans use °F to measure temperature, against the more common °C-entigrade or °C-elsius) and the date of the September 11 aeroplane attacks on the US, which brought down the twin Towers of the World Trade Center. Fahrenheit 9/11’s tagline is "The Temperature at Which Freedom Burns".

It takes more than guts to make a film on such a burning topic, and take on the CEO of the most powerful nation on earth. Michael Moore does it with élan. Must see.

Rating: ****

This is the second flashback in my series on films of yesteryear. More will keep coming.


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About Siraj Syed

Syed Siraj
(Siraj Associates)

Siraj Syed is a film-critic since 1970 and a Former President of the Freelance Film Journalists' Combine of India.

He is the India Correspondent of and a member of FIPRESCI, the international Federation of Film Critics, Munich, Germany

Siraj Syed has contributed over 1,015 articles on cinema, international film festivals, conventions, exhibitions, etc., most recently, at IFFI (Goa), MIFF (Mumbai), MFF/MAMI (Mumbai) and CommunicAsia (Singapore). He often edits film festival daily bulletins.

He is also an actor and a dubbing artiste. Further, he has been teaching media, acting and dubbing at over 30 institutes in India and Singapore, since 1984.

Bandra West, Mumbai


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