Healthy swipe from 'Sicko'

Moore, distrib lash at gov't probe

Michael Moore, Harvey Weinstein and attorney David Boies were the center of a three-man circus Monday as they faced a packed room of cameras and reporters to officially respond to a U.S. Treasury Department investigation of Moore's trip to Cuba shown in his upcoming health-care exposé "Sicko."

"We're prepared to go to court to stop this discriminatory attack," Boies said in his Midtown Manhattan conference room. "We view the actions taken as a form of harassment."

In a letter dated May 2, Dale Thompson, chief of general investigations and field operations at the Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Assets Control, informed Moore that his trip to Cuba was under investigation for violating the trade embargo.

Alleging a Bush administration smear campaign that inadvertently appears to be giving a promotional boost to the film, Boies publicly released his response letter requesting "information regarding the person or persons who participated in making the decision to send Mr. Thompson's letter, the nature of the discussions that took place and the knowledge your office had of Mr. Moore and his trip to Cuba at the time the letter was sent."

Moore said he traveled by boat to a point just outside the Guantanamo Bay detention camp to make the point that suspected al-Qaida detainees were getting better health-care treatment than three ailing Sept. 11 rescue workers onboard with him. The director then decided to go to Cuba to seek treatment for the workers and to film Cuba's health-care system. Moore applied for an Office of Foreign Assets Control permit before his Cuba trip, but it wasn't issued before he went to the country.

Boies' letter cited the Cuban Assets Control Regulations allowing for "travel-related transactions directly incident to journalistic activities in Cuba." It did not address Moore's role in bringing the patients to Cuba, but Moore said that "subjects of the work of journalists are transported by (journalists) all the time. We were acting not just as journalists but as human beings (to help) rescue workers. … Take off your journalistic hats for a moment — does this upset anyone?"

Weinstein declined to specifically address a recent comment from a studio marketing executive who said that the co-head of the Weinstein Co. was "doing his Barnum & Bailey act" (HR 5/16). In his opening comments at the news conference, Weinstein said he asked a Bush administration official why they would launch an attack that would only serve to help promote the film and was told it was to show their key Florida constituency and its Cuban-American population that the administration was "kicking Michael's ass" over what could be perceived as a pro-Fidel Castro movie.

According to organizers, the news conference also was prompted by a New York Post article Sunday claiming that the Bush administration also was investigating the Sept. 11 workers on the Cuba trip.

"In my 25 years in the movie business I've never seen anything like this, where the government has tried to impact a movie like 'Sicko,' " Weinstein said. Moore added that a separate negative of the film, including the 15 minutes of Cuban footage, was sent to Canada in case the government attempts to seize it "like they could seize 10,000 Cuban cigars."

When asked whether he and Weinstein were capitalizing on the government's actions for promotional value, Moore sarcastically replied, "Bob (Weinstein) and Harvey did call Mr. Bush and ask them to investigate us." He added, "It's an odd thing to accuse us of. We were going to open this movie quietly, and then to receive a letter like that. …"

A Treasury Department spokesperson chose not to respond to the allegations, saying, "We don't comment on investigations, including confirming or denying the existence of an investigation."

In the wake of a string of boxoffice disappointments, the Weinstein Co. is looking to strike a populist chord with "Sicko," which it is releasing through Lionsgate, the studio with which the Weinsteins collaborated on Moore's 2004 hit "Fahrenheit 9/11,"

"Sicko" is set to open June 29 in 600-1,000 theaters, possibly building to 1,200 in its second weekend and 1,400-1,500 in the third week, depending on its performance. Lionsgate will handle the booking of domestic theaters; the Weinstein Co. is shouldering all other responsibilities.

But while "Fahrenheit" bowed in 868 theaters to $23.9 million and went on to gross $119.2 million domestically and become the highest-grossing documentary of all time, the Weinstein Co. is attempting to downplay the expectations surrounding "Sicko." One source close to the company said that Weinstein sees the $9 million docu emulating Moore's 2002 film "Bowling for Columbine," which grossed $21.6 million domestically.