Posted: Sep 2, 2006 1:51 am
from today's NYTimes
By SARAH LYALL
LONDON, Sept. 1 — The time is October 2007, and America is in anguish, rent by the war in Iraq and by a combustive restiveness at home. Leaving a hotel in Chicago after making a speech while a huge antiwar protest rages nearby, President Bush is suddenly struck down, killed by a sniper's bullet.
That is the arresting beginning of "Death of a President," a 90-minute film that is to be broadcast here in October on More4, a British digital television station. And while depicting the assassination of a sitting president is provocative in itself, this film is doubly so because it has been made to look like a documentary.
Using archival film as well as computer-generated imagery that, for instance, attaches the president's face to the body of the actor playing him, the film leaves no doubt that the victim is Mr. Bush rather than some generic president.
The movie has not yet been released; indeed, the filmmakers were still editing it today and were not available for comment, said Gavin Dawson, a spokesman for More4. But the station's announcement this week that it planned to present "Death of a President" as part of its autumn season has raised something of a furor here.
"Whilst one is aware of other films that have shown assassinations, those have been in the realm of fantasy," said John Beyer, the director of Mediawatch-UK, which campaigns against sex and violence on television. "To use the president of the United States, the real person, in some fictional presentation, I think that is wrong."
The United States Embassy here directed calls to the White House, which said: "We won't dignify this with a response."
But Peter Dale, the head of More4, said the film was not sensationalistic and did not advocate the assassination of Mr. Bush.
"It has the combination of a gripping forensic narrative and also some very thought-provoking places where you are encouraged to think about the issues behind the narrative," he said.
The film is to be shown publicly on Sept. 10 at the Toronto International Film Festival. After it is broadcast on More4, a digital channel that is free but only available to those with digital television, it will be shown on Channel 4, a nondigital channel that is the BBC's main commercial competitor.
As part of its publicity campaign, More4 released a still from the film depicting the moment Mr. Bush is shot. The picture, which has been reprinted extensively in British newspapers, shows the stricken Mr. Bush slumping forward into an aide's arms, in front of a shocked, panicking crowd; a bank of cameras flash behind. It evokes the photographs of the mortally wounded Robert F. Kennedy in 1968, and also recalls John Hinckley's attempted assassination of Ronald Reagan in 1981 outside Hilton hotel in Washington.
Mr. Dale said that the focus of the film is on the assassination's aftermath, as the news media rush to judgment and as investigators plumb America's fear and anger, particularly in communities with most cause to be angry at Mr. Bush. Suspicion soon focuses on Jamal Abu Zikri, a Syrian-born man.
The movie, Mr. Dale said, is "a very powerful examination of what changes are taking place in America" as a result of its foreign policy."
"I believe that the effects of the wars that are being conducted in Iraq and Afghanistan," he said, "are being felt in many ways in the multiracial communities in America and Britain, in the number of soldiers who don't come home, and that people are beginning to ask: 'When will these body bags stop coming back? Why are we there? When will it stop?' "
Two well-regarded films by the same team have used the same pseudo-documentary style to imagine the ramifications of disastrous events, but set in Britain. One, "The Day Britain Stopped," showed Britain's overstretched transportation system in meltdown after a series of mishaps cripples first the trainsand then the roads, leading finally to the point when a passenger jet collides with a freight plane near Heathrow.
Few Britons have criticized "Death of a President," perhaps wanting to see it before they comment on it. But the newspapers have been quoting upset expatriate Americans.
"It is an appalling way to treat the head of state of another country," Eric Staal, a spokesman for Republicans Abroad in London, told The Evening Standard. "We've seen from early in his presidency the extremes the political left are willing to go to vilify him as an individual. This takes this vilification to a new and disturbing level."
But The Daily Mirror, whose front-page headline today was "Bush Whacked," said in an editorial that while the film was "treading a fine line in terms of taste, it nevertheless provides dramatic food for thought."
It added: "The undoubted furor that this will spark across the U.S. and among the handful of Bush supporters in Europe must not obscure the real question facing us all: Where is the War on Terror going? And how bad does it have to get before it gets better?"