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Berkeley Sets National Record For Moore Film

Tuesday June 29, 2004

As Michael Moore’s new film Fahrenheit 9/11 set attendance records across the country, Berkeley notched one of its own when the California Landmark Theater recorded the highest opening-night profit numbers for any movie theater screening the film nationwide. Crowds also helped sell out every afternoon and evening screening but one, from Friday through Sunday, grossing tens of thousands of dollars for the theater. A spokesperson for the theater declined to give the exact dollar figure for Landmark’s gross take. 

According to published reports, Fahrenheit 9/11 grossed $21.8 million nationwide in its first weekend, outgunning the documentary gross record held by Moore’s previous film, Bowling for Columbine. In total, Fahrenheit 9/11 brought in $21.96 million in gross receipts over the weekend. 

In Berkeley, crowds packed the sidewalk and streets—with lines reaching halfway around the block—waiting to fill the 600-seat theater. Those determined to get good seats bought their tickets days in advance and waited in line for up to an hour and a half. Even the unannounced, unadvertised Thursday night preview drew almost 400 people. 

Those who stopped to comment (others said they were too shell-shocked to talk) said they were impressed with several parts of the film, but in particular liked the way Moore was able to encapsulate a mountain of information. They said he made it digestible, forcing them to re-confront 9/11, the reign of Bush, and the ongoing war and occupation in Iraq. 

Several already had the future on their minds, commenting that they hoped the film would be able to fulfill its potential and have some kind of effect on the election. 

“Is this preaching to the choir or are hundreds of thousands of men and women going to turn around and say we are being duped?” asked Dinah Hager, a native of London but now a naturalized U.S. citizen living in Oakland. “I know how tired people get at the end of the day. Everywhere you go you are being dumbed down. Everywhere tolerance for suffering is being destroyed. I hope that different parts of [the film] will spark different things in people.” 

Hager compared the movie to the anti-war marches that were held shortly before the United States and Britain invaded Iraq. She said even though she marched with millions in the streets on London, her country still went to war. In turn, she asked, will the movie win the election for Kerry? Probably not. But it “is going to have an impact, in small steps,” she said. 

Like others, Hager said she would be glued to the papers to see what the reaction is across the rest of the country. 

The Greenfield family, which brought nine members (spanning three generations) to the movie, might be an indication. While most of the family is from Oakland, they also brought Ida Greenfield, 86, the grandmother from Minnesota. 

Unlike some, Greenfield said she knew of Michael Moore, but not much. She came, she said, because she was intrigued by the controversy. 

“I like controversial figures. They think,” she said. “Those old men in the Bush administration, they don’t think.” 

“It’s haunting,” was her response after the film. “How sad this whole thing is,” Greenfield said while shaking her head. 

Like other Berkeley political events, those promoting their own political causes worked the crowds outside, passing out fliers to those in line or moviegoers filing out. Others, like the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, stood outside for up to eight hours with voter registration forms. 

The event was also not without dissenters. Some who were not standing in line for the movie but instead merely passing by in front of the theater let their criticism of filmmaker Moore be known. 

“I think Michael Moore is a sad, subversive, hateful, bitter, painfully embarrassing excuse for a pundit who makes millions maligning the country that got him here,” said Christian Harstock, a young man from Oakland. 

Nonetheless, like Greenfield, Harstock said he was eventually going to buy a ticket and see the film because he was curious.