Friends and Foes of 'Fahrenheit' Lobby Everyone

By BILL WERDE

The New York Times

June 29, 2004

Michael Moore's film has already set a box-office record. On Monday night it set a few social agendas as well.

The political action committee MoveOn.org organized thousands of parties linked to the release of that film. As of Monday evening, according to online registrations provided by MoveOn, that organization had recruited more than 4,000 supporters to give parties, with at least one in all 50 states and Washington. The highlight was an 8 p.m. conference call and question-and-answer session with Mr. Moore.

"These parties are to celebrate the film's success," said Eli Pariser, 23, the executive director of MoveOn, a liberal organization that advocates grass-roots involvement in politics. "But they are also to take the momentum gathered around the movie and direct it towards activities that will have a concrete effect on the election."

Mr. Moore's promised Q. and A. session, broadcast on the Internet, seemed to involve more answers than questions, and at several parties, attention returned to chips, dip and wine long before Mr. Moore finished speaking. Mr. Moore asked everyone to "adopt five nonvoters and bring them to the polls." Later in the call, Mr. Pariser announced plans for "phone parties" on July 11 in which MoveOn supporters would call unregistered voters in swing states.

Liberals were not alone in celebrating favorite films on Monday. In Sacramento the conservative group Move America Forward, whose Web site criticizes "Fahrenheit 9/11," organized an advance screening of the Disney documentary "America's Heart and Soul," due in theaters on July 2. That film, directed by Louis Schwartzberg, celebrates ordinary Americans and, Disney says, their extraordinary stories. "Disney brought the movie, rented the theater and even paid for the popcorn," Howard Kaloogian, the chairman of Move America Forward, said. "It's a very patriotic film," he continued. "It's in the finest tradition of inspiring Disney movies."

Mr. Kaloogian said that "about 100" people attended.

Dennis Rice, the head of publicity for Walt Disney Studios, said that Disney had no connection to Move America Forward. "We've screened this movie close to 100 times," he said. "Where were the media calls when we showed it to the Sierra Club or the AARP?"

Mary Lee Pennington of Sacramento said she heard about the Disney film on a conservative talk show on a Sacramento station and took her granddaughter, Paige Siri, to the screening. She said that the Disney film "makes you feel how lucky we are to live in a country that has the opportunity for freedom."

As for the MoveOn parties, they took place throughout Monday evening in almost every conceivable manner and function across the United States, including at exclusive celebrity events, clubs, bars and homes.

At the artist Damien Loeb's spacious loft in Manhattan, Mr. Loeb, the pop star Moby and MoveOn were hosts of the only private party. About 20 celebrities, including the actresses Edie Falco and Rose McGowan, and the comedian David Cross were engulfed by a news media feeding frenzy, as television and film crews mingled in the crowd and notebooks were as common an accessory as plastic cups of wine.

Ms. Falco said that she had worked with MoveOn before, and came to the party directly from a screening of the movie because she was asked to attend. "I was really moved by what Moore was saying," she said, "about `How seriously are you going to take this election?' and `How much will you really put yourself out there?' "

And did she plan to do that?

"Absolutely not," she deadpanned, bursting into laughter and moving on to a television interview.

"Going to a party?" Mr. Cross said. "That's the weakest political statement you can make." He seemed more interested in the flat-screen monitors that Mr. Loeb had in his living room, broadcasting scenes from the street outside the party. Still, he added, "These parties might foster some discourse and some passion, and that would be really great."

At another party at the Bubble Lounge bar in TriBeCa, two friends, Paula Rogovin, 56, and Susanne Markan, 61, said they had protested against the Vietnam War. "There was a turning point back then, where you could just feel the country had had enough," Ms. Markan said. "That's what these parties are about to me, is seeing that turning point today."

And at a Brooklyn house party, held by Brice Rosenbloom, 30, and his wife, Dina, 29, grass-roots activists connected over bottles of beer on a candlelit rooftop long after the conference call had ended. Eric Demby, 32, the speechwriter for the Brooklyn borough president, Marty Markowitz, is beginning a newsletter called Involver, at involver04.org, to alert subscribers to what he called "politically relevant cultural events." He met Jennifer Harmer, 26, who belongs to a group called Axis of Eve, which seeks to end the Bush presidency with a pro-sex message. For fund-raising purposes it sells women's underwear marked with raunchy slogans using the president's surname. Now Mr. Demby says he will promote Ms. Harmer's efforts through Involver.

At about midnight, Mrs. Rosenbloom appeared on the rooftop. "I'm sorry to break up the discourse," she said, "but I really need to go to sleep."