- The Washington Times - Friday, February 27, 2009

Filmmaker Kevin Leffler’s first movie, “Shooting Michael Moore,” was set to open in Traverse City, Mich., last month, but the screening got canceled at the last minute.

Was it politically motivated censorship?

Or simply a prudent safeguard against the possibility of violence against one of Michigan’s own incited by a provocative documentary with an incendiary title?

Mr. Leffler, a Michigan native like his subject, isn’t a director by trade, but he has seen enough of Mr. Moore’s movies to know how a cinematic David can sock it to Goliath.

So when Mr. Leffler, a certified public accountant and assistant professor at Baker College, saw inconsistencies between Mr. Moore’s public persona and his actions, he did what the Oscar-winning director himself might do.

He picked up a camera and got to work.

“The perception of Mike is that he fights the good fight, stands up for the little guy,” Mr. Leffler says. “But Mike is out for Mike, and that’s OK, but don’t pretend.”

“Shooting Michael Moore” contends that the filmmaker treats cast members poorly, rails against corporations such as Halliburton while gobbling up their stock and used his latest film, “Sicko,” to paint a highly inaccurate picture of Cuba’s health care system.

The movie was shown in Detroit and Miami late last year, but its scheduled Jan. 9 screening at Carmike Cinemas’ Horizon Outlet theater in Traverse City never happened.

The cancellation came before a planned Jan. 7 press conference organized by Jeff Gibbs, a longtime friend of Mr. Moore’s, to urge that the screening be stopped.

Mr. Gibbs, co-producer of Mr. Moore’s Oscar-winning smash “Fahrenheit 9/11,” says via e-mail that Mr. Leffler “admits that the title of his film implies shooting my friend with both film and a gun, had the sound of a bullet on his Web site, and gives direction to Michael’s bedroom window in his film.”

“If it wasn’t Michael Moore, what Leffler had done would be called a crime, not a movie,” Mr. Gibbs says, adding he wouldn’t mind having the film shown without “the implied shooting threat and the way to carry [it] out.”

The Traverse City Record-Eagle applauded the decision to suspend the screening, saying in an editorial that the title “is an obvious and irresponsible reference to something some crackpots might think of as a patriotic act.”

Mr. Leffler, however, says a viewer would have to invent the last 20 minutes or so of the trip to find the filmmaker’s home if all he had was the film as a guide. Also, he counters, Mr. Moore’s address is on public record. Anyone could find it.

Mr. Leffler says he never said the title implies violence toward Mr. Moore but that people can interpret it as they please. He also points out that in Mr. Moore’s book “Downsize This!” he calls for an anniversary riot to mark the 1992 Los Angeles riots, going so far as to include a hand-drawn map to the affluent Beverly Hills neighborhood intended as the riot’s starting point. Mr. Moore does advise readers to burn the neighborhood, not the neighbors.

The fledgling filmmaker also says he’s open to changing the film’s title, although no final decision has been made.

Mr. Moore did not respond to repeated requests for comment for this article, and Carmike Cinemas did not return four calls for comment. Carmike Director of Marketing Dale Hurst told the Record-Eagle last month he had “no idea” why his company decided not to show the movie.

The National Association of Theatre Owners does not comment on the actions of its members.

Mr. Leffler poured $175,000 of his own cash into the project, which he began shooting in 2004. A version of the film played at the 2007 Flint Film Festival in Michigan, walking off with the Audience Choice Award.

He got an infusion of funding after a rough cut of the film that aired on C-SPAN attracted a backer. He used the additional cash to film new material for the project — scenes rebutting Mr. Moore’s celebration of the Cuban health care model in “Sicko.” He got that new material by picking up the phone book and cold-calling doctors in the Miami area to find some who had practiced medicine in Cuba.

He then traveled to Cuba, along with an interpreter and camera operator, to shoot his own footage. His small team took separate flights and stayed in separate hotels to avoid suspicion. A miniature camera recorded the footage included in the final version of “Shooting Michael Moore.”

Mr. Leffler’s film isn’t nearly as slick as Mr. Moore’s efforts, but “Shooting Michael Moore” does pack a punch. The Cuban footage in particular — both what his team shot and material given to him by Cubans critical of their country’s system — reveals shocking conditions that stand in sharp contrast to the idealized picture seen in “Sicko.”

The film also says Mr. Moore, through a charitable foundation he set up, invested in stock from companies he often railed against, including Exxon Mobil Corp. and Halliburton. (Mr. Moore’s stock purchases were reported previously in other sources, including the book “Do As I Say (Not As I Do): Profiles in Liberal Hypocrisy” by Peter Schweizer.)

Mr. Leffler says his movie — which played four weeks at an AMC movie theater in Miami and two weeks in several Detroit theaters — could hit theaters in New York City and Los Angeles early in March, although nothing is confirmed yet.

Mr. Leffler, who went to high school with Mr. Moore and later worked with him at a local crisis hot line, swears he’s not grinding an ideological ax. He says he’s a registered Democrat who recently voted for President Obama. It’s just that he can’t stomach what he sees as Mr. Moore’s hypocrisy.

“Here you have one of the loudest proponents of free speech, but when it’s against him, he’s happy to censor it,” he says.

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