The mayhem of Michael Moore’s movie premiere

It was about 6:30 p.m. when Helen Thomas, the first recognizable face of the evening, showed up to the red carpet for the premiere of Michael Moore’s new documentary, “SiCKO.” She looked stylish in a black pantsuit and a large double strand of pearls.

Was she excited to attend? “I hope so,” she replied. “How do I get in?”

She was understandably confused. The long line of photographers, reporters, TV crews and clumps of screaming, chanting protesters made it difficult for moviegoers like Thomas to figure out how to maneuver themselves into the Uptown Theater on
Wednesday night in Cleveland Park.

Former Defense Secretary William Cohen showed up on the red carpet shortly thereafter and captured the attention of many cameras en route to the theater.

It must be said that the red carpet in Washington is not remotely like the red carpets of Hollywood. While some tried to glam out with large Olsen twin-style sunglasses and short silk dresses, most attendees wore wrinkled or otherwise inappropriate attire for a red carpet. One man wore cut-off jean shorts with a purple top. Many moviegoers wore cotton tank tops.

And then there were the shouting matches.

As protesters and supporters in dueling nursing uniforms (one group in short, tight getups opposed Moore; another, dressed in maroon frocks, supported him) chanted their way through the crowd, TV crews grew impatient. “We’re trying to interview people,” one photographer yelled out. “Move it on down the road!”

They wouldn’t cease. “Stand up, look around,” they chanted in bubbly unison. “There’s a healthcare crisis in this town.”

There were other oddities in the midst. A Belgian cameraman standing in the wrong spot was seriously pissing off the event’s organizers. “May I help you?” one organizer asked him three times — loudly — before he replied. Later on, he wandered back to the wrong location.

Lawmakers in attendance were scarce. They included Democratic Reps. Lynn Woolsey (Calif.), Bob Filner (Calif.) and presidential hopeful Dennis Kucinich (Ohio). “Dennis Kucinich passes for a celebrity in Washington,” a reporter on the red carpet remarked.

Other lawmakers who showed up included California Democratic Reps. Barbara Lee, Maxine Waters, Pete Stark and Lois Capps, as well as Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.), House Judiciary Chairman John Conyers Jr. (D-Mich.), Rep. Jim Cooper (D-Tenn.) and Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.).

Also on the red carpet were those who appeared in the film. John Graham, a rescue worker from the Sept. 11 attacks, showed up with a cast on his right hand. He offered interviews, saying he had a hernia, esophageal burns, an enlarged heart and post-traumatic stress disorder — all a result of working at ground zero.

“Now there’s rarely a week goes by that I don’t go to one doctor or another,” Graham said, adding that his working days are over for now. “I can’t do much of anything.”

Moore’s arrival in a black van was the highlight of the red-carpet affair. Waves of media crews and protesters began running toward the van, trying to get a glimpse of the filmmaker. It wasn’t hard — he is large and distinct. To the sounds of loud booing, he walked the red carpet in a gargantuan black T-shirt, blue blazer, jeans and sneakers.

“He’s doing just what Cindy Sheehan did,” remarked Tyler Sandberg, 23, among the loudest booing protesters. “It’s just sad he’s using extreme tactics to make his point.”

As for himself, Moore was pleasant and in good spirits.

“They’re calling you a socialist,” one reporter told him.

“Oh, really?” Moore replied. “I’m a Christian — they’re confused.”

So does he ever feel afraid in situations like this, with a large crowd teeming with protesters?

“No,” he said, laughing. “Do you know something I don’t know?”