by AL MILGROM
On Oct. 19, 2007, 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, and his inauguration is marked by l0,000 demonstrators violently protesting nuclear brinksmanship policies in Iraq, North Korea and Iran. This is the setting for the fictionalized, controversial feature “Death of a President,” which won the prestigious Critics’ Prize (given by the International Federation of Film Critics) at the just-ended 31st Toronto International Film Festival. The festival’s 10-day run ended Saturday with news that the film, by 32-year-old British documentarian Gabriel Range, is due for a U.S. release around November (just in time for elections), which could make it the Michael Moore political film of this season. The ultra-realistic and audacious film, built around 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 basically does away with personal liberties.
to festival-goers by the acronym “D.O.A.P.,” its world premiere
generated some of the biggest buzz of the festival, where anti-Bush themes prevailed
in other big films due for U.S. release around election time, including Barbara
Chicks: Shut Up and Sing.” Also screened was Emilio Estevez’s
a re-imagining of the tragic Robert Kennedy assassination in l968 that combines
behind-the-scenes fact and fiction. Led by a star-studded cast, the movie unfolds
at the Los Angeles 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 ways of seeing films.
Prisoner or How I Planned to Kill Tony Blair” is a documentary providing
an indirect look at post-9/11 America, in which an Iraqi journalist is imprisoned
for nine months in Abu Ghraib prison when he is falsely suspected by U.S. intelligence
of attempting to assassinate British Prime Minister Tony Blair during an Iraqi
an interview with 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 when announcing a reported $3 million deal for U.S. distribution of D.O.A.P.
that he found 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 documentarian Kopple and her co-producer, co-director
Cecilia Peck (daughter of Gregory) to the portrait of the troubled Dixie Chicks
and how the ups and downs in their 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, the three take to the
road again, unrepentant, and transcending their country western origins with
some fine rock.
Toronto has become the glossiest, most celebrity-conscious and largest film
festival in North America, with 352 features this year, and while it will claim
numerous Oscar-nominees from its gala of premieres, low-budget small features
still had a chance to capture audience attention. A charming first feature,
about two brothers and a frazzled young waitress in a New York Mexican restaurant,
captured a prominent People’s Choice award, winning out over Kopple’s
“Dixie Chicks,” while best Canadian feature (and a $30,000 prize)
went to Toronto-based Jennifer Baichwal for “Manufactured
Landscapes,” her documentary on Canadian photographer Edward Burtynsky’s
work on ecological peril in China and the world at large.
Expect these and other indie films from the Toronto Film Festival to make their
way to the Twin Cities in the near future. ||
Milgrom is the founder of the legendary U
Film Society, and has spent the better part of five decades bringing cutting
edge national and international cinema to the Twin Cities. He has been the Minneapolis-St.
Paul International Film Festival's stalwart program director for all of
it’s 24 years, remains an active and impassioned advocate of International cinema and is a frequent arts contributor to Pulse.