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'Fahrenheit 9/11' Documentary Draws Sold-Out Audiences to Garden Theater

Matthew Hersh

Since Michael Moore's new documentary lambasting motives for the Iraq War opened last weekend, it has galvanized the formation of ad hoc groups to promote seeing the film.

Fahrenheit 9/11 is playing at Princeton's Garden Theater to sold out audiences. Box office sales nationwide totalled $21.8 million, taking the number one spot last weekend and breaking the record for documentaries that show in mainstream movie theaters.

The film, which is distributed by Lions Gate, a unit of Lions Gate Entertainment, is currently showing at 868 theaters, but will double distribution in the next week.

Locally, the documentary has spurred interest as well. The Princeton Democratic Community Organization bought all 215 tickets for the Garden Theater's 12:30 p.m. viewing Sunday, which followed a John Kerry fund-raiser that raised about $7,000.

The PCDO event brought out local legislators, including Assemblyman Reed Gusciora, 15th District, and Township Committeeman Bill Hearon. The event was also attended by New York Times columnist and Princeton University economics professor Paul Krugman.

"I thought it would be really fun for people to see the movie with like-minded people," said Jenny Crumiller, who organized the PCDO event. "It spurs people into action," she said of the political motivation to "get the message out."

"It reaches people in a way that reading about it or just seeing news reports about what's going on in the world doesn't," she said. "I hope it makes people feel responsible [to] do something."

The same afternoon, members from the Coalition for Peace Action bought 112 tickets for the 2:30 p.m. showing. Rev. Robert Moore, CPA Executive Director, said the idea to have a group viewing and discussion stemmed from the group's concern regarding the foundation and direction of the Iraq war effort.

"For me, the movie connected the dots, from how Bush reacted the morning of the [9/11] attack to the current war," he said.

Has the interest in Princeton grown simply because of the town's large, liberal Democratic demographic? Ms. Crumiller did not think so.

"I had initially thought that it wouldn't appeal to [Republicans], I thought it would be the left wing of the Democratic party that really went all out for it," she said, adding that she recognizes the documentary was put together from a particular perspective.

Nevertheless, after seeing the film, she said it isn't just for "left wingers." "It's more mainstream than I thought," she said. But she admitted that she did not see any "known Republicans" at the viewing of the film that she attended.

Distinta Theaters consultant Louise Stephens backed up that sentiment. Distinta is the film exhibitor that distributes to theaters in New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, and Pennsylvania, using the demographics in prospective markets to determine whether a film will be successful or not. Fahrenheit 9/11, for example, was a prime pick for Princeton's Garden Theater.

However, Distinta's theater in Clarion, Pa., was not chosen for Mr. Moore's documentary because the demographic make-up there is largely politically conservative.

"We did huge business in Clarion for Passion of the Christ, and didn't think there would be much call for [Fahrenheit], but we have gotten numerous e-mails requesting it, and we'll be opening it there this Friday," she said.

As for changing the minds of voters, Ms. Stephens said the film could impact those riding the political fence.

"I believe anyone who is considering not voting will get out and vote after seeing this movie," she said.

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