Death of American President
Gabriel Range.

“Death of a President' faces tough questions, audience Harlan Jacobson, USA Today 9/11/06

05/20/06 - 05/21/06

Private event

“Death of a President' faces tough questions, audience Harlan Jacobson, USA Today 9/11/06

TORONTO — The hot-ticket Death of a President, which had its world premiere here Sunday night, was not meant to be a political attack on President Bush, says its British TV director, Gabriel Range.

The film's title set off an orgy on the talk radio and TV circuit when it was revealed two weeks ago. But Range calls it a "fictionalized retrospective documentary ... in which we're using the lens of the future to look at the present."

At press time, the British film did not have a deal for U.S. distribution.

In the movie, events are set forward to Oct. 19, 2007, when President Bush gives a speech to the Chicago Economics Club, a sequence lifted from archival news footage of Bush speaking to the real group earlier this year. Outside, the Chicago police beat protesters run amok.

As he walks from the hotel to his motorcade, "Bush" is assassinated.

The filmmakers use transplanted archival footage of Bush (and of Vice President Cheney giving a eulogy — critics tried to figure out whose funeral it was), but the actual assassination is a quick, blurry sequence reminiscent of the 1981 attempt on President Reagan.

Range says he used Photoshop, but the camera only fleetingly shows the president's face. The film is not, as the talk-radio world chattered last week, the work of fringe liberal Democrats having a wish-fulfillment fantasy. Range has given similar treatment to the collapse of the British transit system in a future-past 2003 doc called The Day Britain Stopped.

Death of a President flashes forward to a time after the administration has fictionally introduced Patriot Act 3, further expanding the power of government into the judicial process, which is seen as corrupted by the political need to blame Middle East enemies such as Syria. A Syrian immigrant is wrongly accused of the crime.

The movie didn't score any huge critical success here. The consensus seemed to be that the political conclusions — that American politics drives truth out the window — didn't seem to be worth the artistic effort to pump up the volume.

"They handled the assassination sequence well and not exploitively," says Todd McCarthy, film critic at Variety, who challenged Range after the screening for having too narrow of a focus on the future course of things.

"It's not as controversial as it could be," says Norman Wilner, who writes for the Toronto Metro weekly newspaper.

The point of all this specificity by Range and co-writer/producer Simon Finch is to make it seem real enough to audiences to get and keep their attention. "In order for what has affected us in the last five years to come across as realistic, it was important that George Bush be the president," Range told the packed 387-seat house at the downtown Paramount multiplex. "If we'd have used a fictional president, audience reaction would be completely different — like watching 24 or The Sentinel. This feels authentic."

Festival co-executive director Piers Handling agreed, saying: "It's just part of the cinema landscape now, that increasingly people want the immediacy of real experience, real information, and the simulation of that 'reality.' Otherwise, it all feels removed at a time when audiences are saying, 'Whatever it is, give us reality and let us deal with it.' "

Handling said showing the film "has had no adverse impact on us as a festival."

Toronto chief programmer Noah Cowan, who booked the film, says awareness of it has "launched like a bullet on the international scene. Why wouldn't we book it? It's a completely innovative and creative construction of the way images can be used — which is precisely the conversation we should be having at a film festival." The auditorium was silent during the film while viewers tried to follow the stream of political and forensic jargon. Audience response at the end was an unsure round of applause.

Film taping at Chopin Theatre for "Death of a President", a fictional documentary about the assassination of 43rd U.S. President George W. Bush. It is directed by British filmmaker Gabriel Range. The film uses archive footage, actors, and computer effects to portray an assassination of the 43rd U.S. president. The film covers topics of civil disobedience, racial profiling, the reduction of civil liberties, sensationalism and just-war theory.

Gabriel Range

Gabriel Range

Tags: Film, American, 2006