Michael Moore's "Fahrenheit 9/11," cast adrift after Walt Disney Co. blocked its release, may have found another route into theaters. Lions Gate Films is expected to release the provocative documentary in a matter of weeks.
The advanced talks with Lions Gate for domestic theatrical distribution, confirmed by two knowledgeable sources, come as Miramax Films founders Bob and Harvey Weinstein purchased the movie back from the studio they oversee. The brothers paid about $6 million -- the film's approximate cost -- to end the distribution stalemate.
Miramax and its parent, Disney, announced Friday that the Weinsteins had acquired rights to the film and would be responsible for costs incurred before its release. Disney had blocked Miramax from distributing the movie, which is sharply critical of President Bush's handling of terror threats and the Iraq war.
Sources said that if a distribution deal with Lions Gate was reached soon, "Fahrenheit 9/11" could debut in as many as 1,000 U.S. theaters by late June or the first weekend in July. A New York movie marketing company already is working on commercials for the film.
"It is a fair and equitable solution," Moore said in a statement Friday, referring to Disney's sale of the rights. He previously had accused the company of trying to censor the film.
Lions Gate, Disney and the Weinsteins declined to comment. Miramax said no final distribution deal with Lions Gate had been reached.
Disney Chairman Michael Eisner, worried about the film's partisan tone, informed Miramax a year ago that the Disney subsidiary would be barred from releasing the film, which last week took the top prize at the Cannes Film Festival. News of Disney's decision was reported by the New York Times shortly before the festival began, turning the movie into a cause celebre.
Although Miramax essentially is independent of Disney, the parent company can prevent Miramax from making or releasing films for budgetary, content or ratings reasons.
Moore has told potential distributors that he wanted the film released in the summer and its video to debut in the fall, so that both would precede November's U.S. presidential election.
In the past, Miramax was forced to find alternative distribution for three controversial movies: the graphic adolescent sex story "Kids," the violent high school drama "O" and the religious comedy "Dogma." The last two films eventually were released by Lions Gate.
Both Lions Gate and the Weinsteins could make millions on "Fahrenheit 9/11," as they did with "Dogma." The Weinsteins would give Lions Gate a percentage of the film's proceeds as a distribution fee, keeping much of the balance themselves, according to sources. Moore's previous documentary, the Oscar-winning "Bowling for Columbine," grossed more than $21 million domestically.
Miramax and Disney executives had been working on the deal to sell "Fahrenheit 9/11" to the Weinsteins for several weeks. One of the sticking points was how Disney would unload the movie without making money on the transaction. The Burbank-based company, according to a person familiar with the talks, did not want to appear to profit from a movie it had blocked.
In announcing the sale, Disney and Miramax said any profit from the transaction would be donated to charity.
Miramax financed most of Moore's documentary after its original backer, Mel Gibson's Icon Entertainment, dropped out. Lions Gate is a division of TV and film producer Lions Gate Entertainment Corp., based in North Vancouver, Canada, and Santa Monica.