A screening by the Motion Picture Association of America's appeals board has been set for June 22, just three days before "Fahrenheit 9/11" hits theaters. But the film's distributors are trying to move that screening up to this week to expedite a decision, said Tom Ortenberg, president of Lions Gate Films, one of the companies releasing the film.
An R rating means those younger than 17 can't see the movie unless accompanied by an adult. The MPAA ratings board gave "Fahrenheit 9/11" an R rating for "violent and disturbing images and for language."
"I think the message of the movie is so important that it should be available to be seen by as wide an audience as possible," Ortenberg said Monday. "Frankly, I don't consider any of the images in the film any more disturbing than what we have all seen on the cable news networks and the gratuitous violence that fills the screen of so many PG-13-rated action pictures."
In "Fahrenheit 9/11," Moore depicts President Bush as asleep at the wheel in the months before the Sept. 11 attacks. The movie also accuses the White House of breeding fear of more terrorism to gain public support for the Iraq war.
The film's images include a public beheading in Saudi Arabia, Iraqis burned by napalm and a grisly scene of an Iraqi man dumping a dead baby into a truckbed loaded with bodies.
"It is sadly very possible that many 15- and 16-year-olds will be asked and recruited to serve in Iraq in the next couple of years," Moore said. "If they are old enough to be recruited and capable of being in combat and risking their lives, they certainly deserve the right to see what is going on in Iraq."
"Fahrenheit 9/11" won the top honor at last month's Cannes Film Festival for Moore, who received the 2002 Academy Award for best documentary with "Bowling for Columbine."
Moore had to seek new distributors for "Fahrenheit 9/11" after Disney refused to let its Miramax subsidiary release it, saying it was too politically charged.
Miramax bosses Harvey and Bob Weinstein bought the movie back from Disney and lined up Lions Gate and IFC Films to help distribute it.
The film opens June 25 in 500 to 1,000 theaters in "every major city in America," Ortenberg said.
That constitutes an exceptionally wide release among documentaries, which typically play in only a handful of theaters.
By David Germain