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Bobby and Bush both Dead On Arrival, score at Toronto

Dick Cheney becomes the 44th President of the United States when George W. Bush, after addressing the Economic Club of Chicago, is assassinated outside a Chicago hotel, after a speech marked by l0, 000 demonstrators violently protesting nuclear brinksmanship policies in Iraq, North Korea and Iran.
The date is Oct.19, 2007.
This is the setting for the 93-minute fictionalized, controversial feature,”Death of a President”. The picture won the prestigious international critics (FIPRESCI) prize at the just concluded 31st Toronto International
Film Festival. The festival wound up its 10-day run last Saturday with news that the film by 32-year-old British documentarist Gabriel Range is due for a U.S. release around November election time, which could make it the Michael Moore “political film” of this season. The ultra-realistic and audacious film -- to some, a terrifying idea -- is done as a speculative documentary using all the tricks of digital editing to seamlessly tell the story, including Mr.Cheney’s perfectly synched eulogy, along with his intentions to subvert terrorism with a new Patriot Act that all but denies personal liberties.

Known to Toronto Filmfest-goers bv the acronym “D.O.A.P”, its world premiere generated some of the biggest buzz of the recently-ended l0-day festival, where anti-Bush themes prevailed among other big films due for U.S.release around election time. Among them, the Barbara Kopple “Dixie Chicks: Shut Up and Sing”, and the Emilio Estevez’-directed “Bobby”, a re-imagining of the tragic Robert Kennedy assassination in l968, combining behind-the-scenes fact and fiction, in the style of the classic “Grand
Hotel” and a star-studded cast, unfolding at the Los Ångeles Ambassador Hotel on that fateful day, culminating in Kennedy’s final, stirring message of hope for America’s future just before the fatal bullets.

Both the Bush and Kennedy films combine archival footage in ways that challenge conventional documentary authenticity and fictional ways of seeing films. (Minneapolis native Dan Grodnick was an executive producer on the film.) Alluding to Bush-era American history and visions of change, “The
Prisoner or How I Planned to Kill Tony Blair” documentary was another post 9/11 look, but indirectly, at America, this one being about an Iraqi journalist who spent nine months in Abu Ghraib prison falsely suspected by U.S. intelligence with intentions to assassinate British PM Tony Blair on an Iraqi war tour. In his one interview (exclusively to the Toronto Star) writer/director and sometime U.S. resident Range insisted that his “‘Death of a President’ isn’t about the assassination of Bush, really. It’s about using the dramatic device of the assassination as a means of looking at America. It’s an imagined future to reflect America today.”

Claiming to avoid sensationalism, Newmarket Films co-founder Chris Bell (the same firm that distributed Mel Gibson’s “Passion of Christ”) said in announcing U.S.rights to “DOAP”, a reported $3 million deal, he discovered the film to be “first and foremost a riveting and commercial political thriller.” A White House spokesperson, on the other hand, reportedly told a Canadian broadcaster last week that he wouldn’t “dignify the film with a response.”

Freedom of speech and opposition to the war in Iraq also drew distinguished documentarist Kopple and her co-producer,co-director Cecilia Peck (daughter of Gregory) to the portrait of the troubled Dixie Chicks and how their ups and downs in professional and personal lives reflects “the political life we have in the United States right now, ” said Kopple. As the trio plots its comeback on the charts, they take to the road again, unrepentant, and transcending their country western origins with some fine rock.
With Toronto, as now the glossiest, celebrity-conscious and largest film festival in North America, with 352 features this year, claiming numerous Oscar-nominees from its gala of premieres, low-budget small features still had a chance to capture audience attention. A charming first feature,”Bella,” about two brothers and a frazzled young waitress in a New York Mexican restaurant, captured a prominent People’s Choice award, winning over Kopple’s “Dixie Chicks,” while best Çanadian feature went to “Manufactured Landscapes,” and a $30,000 prize for Toronto-based Jennifer Baichwal for her documentary on Canadian photographer Edward Burtynsky's work on ecological peril in China and the world at large. With more than 900 journalists and some 2,000 industry professionals and programmers, Toronto claims more than a 300,000 audience. Its former competition with Montreal for North American leadership is a thing of the past. Montreal, noting its 30th anniversary earlier this month, is content to be known as a festival of discoveries” and “cultural diversity” rather than glitz, said director Serge Losique, his having been stripped of more than $1 million federal and provincial subsidies. Lack of big Hollywood premieres was one of the main official reasons given. Both Toronto and Montreal film festivals, however, are primary conduits for the Minneapolis film and festival scenes, and showings in both festivals ricochet into multi-screenings around the Twin Cities. –

Al Milgrom, director Minneapolis Film Festival
Special to,
Sept.27, '06

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