Michael Moore's Sicko may be drumming up hype because of its subject matter. But for The Weinstein Company, the director is the real story. Peter Bowen reports.

After Fahrenheit 9/11 grossed more than $220m worldwide, it became clear that a Michael Moore film was not your everyday documentary. For his new film Sicko, Moore has commented that this 'may have the widest audience of any film I've ever done, simply because so many people - regardless of their political stripe - are affected by this issue'.

But for The Weinstein Company (TWC), the universal factor for selling and marketing Sicko is its star director, rather than the universal subject of healthcare. The film has so far grossed $4.6m in the US.

Gary Faber, executive vice-president of marketing for TWC, jokingly remarks: 'Nobody goes to see the movie to learn anything. We sit down in marketing meetings, and realise that we can't sell this as a movie about healthcare. We have to sell this as an entertainment movie, a film by Michael Moore.'

In selling the film internationally, the same principle applies. For Glen Basner, president of TWC International 'I wouldn't even call it a documentary; it is like a star vehicle with Moore as the star.'

Indeed in many European territories, Moore's work transcends the genre. According to Basner: 'In France, Michael Moore is an auteur film-maker, and so people are coming out in commercial film numbers to see a 'Michael Moore film'.'

Such notoriety - not to mention a proven track record - has created a very healthy appetite for Sicko. 'The response in Cannes was great,' remarks Basner and while he is hesitant to name figures, he is confident that with nearly all foreign territories taken, Sicko will be 'the highest paid-for documentary in history'.

Although the film deals mainly with the US healthcare system, Basner believes that audiences will appreciate the larger human drama: 'It is about how we as human beings take care of other human beings in time of need.'

TWC will hope to encourage a discussion of these universal issues when they begin an international roll-out of the film in August, with Moore travelling to many of the territories to open it.

'Week by week, we will be stepping it out,' remarks Basner. 'We don't see it as a small film or as a huge blockbuster. So for us it will be about finding the right competitive date and building off what transpires here in the US.'