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GOP Filmmaker's Post-'Fahrenheit' Temperature? '41.11'

Lionel Chetwynd teams up with Citizens United to counter anti-Bush movie. 'You tell enough lies and the brain starts to die,' he says.

September 16, 2004|Elaine Dutka | Times Staff Writer

A conservative grass-roots group and a leading Hollywood Republican are teaming up to deliver a rejoinder to "Fahrenheit 9/11," Michael Moore's controversial anti-Bush film.

Made over several weeks on a $900,000 budget, "Celsius 41.11" is scheduled to premiere Sept. 28 at a Washington theater. The title of the movie alludes to the temperature at which the brain deteriorates from heat -- in this case, from Moore's left-wing rhetoric, said writer-producer Lionel Chetwynd, one of Hollywood's most vocal Republicans.

"You tell enough lies and the brain starts to die," he said Wednesday.

In the film, footage that contrasts the positions of President Bush and Democratic challenger John F. Kerry on various issues is interspersed with interviews with Republican actor-politician Fred Thompson, journalists Fred Barnes and Charles Krauthammer, film critic Michael Medved and terrorism expert Mansoor Ijaz, among others. No contact was made with the White House, the filmmakers said.

Financial backing for "Celsius 41.11" comes from Citizens United, a Washington-based activist group that claims more than 100,000 politically conservative members nationwide. Negotiations are underway to line up a distributor, said the group's president, Dave Bossie, with hopes for a national theatrical run.

"With only six weeks, start to finish, we don't expect to hit a home run, like Moore," Bossie said. "But we're hoping for a solid single that will educate people and influence the political debate. Though the American people don't care what [outspoken Democrats] Alec Baldwin and Barbra Streisand think, Republicans need to do more outreach to Hollywood."

Moore -- whose "Fahrenheit" has taken in $118.3 million domestically, making it the highest-grossing documentary ever -- could not be reached for comment.

Bossie said he came up with the idea for a Republican counterpoint to "Fahrenheit" in July and immediately thought of writer-producer Chetwynd, who is up for an Emmy on Sunday for A&E's "Ike: Countdown to D-Day." He also wrote "DC 9/11: Time of Crisis," a Showtime special that depicted Bush's response to the terrorist attacks.

After considering other offers to respond to Moore's movie, Chetwynd agreed to join Bossie's project after he was promised artistic control.

He and his frequent partner, Ted Steinberg, produced and wrote the film, which will have a running time of 80 to 90 minutes. It was directed by Kevin Knoblock, the writer-producer of A&E's "Biography Special: Oscar."

"What was getting to me was Michael Moore's almost preternatural obsession with getting rid of Bush," Chetwynd said.

"We set out to analyze the cause of this deep-seated hatred, the contention that Bush stole Florida, used the Patriot Act to rob people of their civil rights, misled the nation about weapons of mass destruction.

"We're also examining the 'anybody but Bush' rationale, comparing the policies of Bush and Kerry, shining a spotlight on the 'anybody' they found," Chetwynd said.

"Rather than doing a hit piece like Moore, we're taking the high road -- to the extent that anyone can in this election."

An announcement about the theatrical run is expected next week. Exhibitors say it's certainly a possibility.

"Everything depends on the quality of the film," said Jerry Pokorski, executive vice president and head film buyer for Pacific Theatres.

"Look at 'The Passion of the Christ' and 'Fahrenheit' ... suddenly everyone found room. It can happen very quickly -- greed is good, you know."

Chetwynd isn't banking on it, but, still, a guy can dream.

"In my fantasy, everyone in America will watch this film," he said. "In reality, I have no idea. The alarm goes off on election day and only dogged partisans will watch a political film outside of the electoral cycle."

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