Saturday, September 02, 2006
Leaving a hotel in Chicago after making a speech while a huge antiwar protest rages nearby, the president 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 provocation in itself, this film is doubly so because it has been made to look like a documentary.
Using actual archival footage as well as computer-generated imagery that, for instance, attaches the president's face onto the body of the actor playing him, the film leaves no doubt that the victim is Bush rather than some generic president.
The film has not yet been released; indeed, the filmmakers were still editing it on Friday 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, 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 U.S. Embassy in London directed calls to the White House, which said: "We won't dignify this with a response."
But Peter Dale, the head of More4, was quoted in British newspapers as saying that the film was not sensationalistic and did not advocate the assassination of 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 first to be shown publicly on Sept. 10 at the Toronto Film Festival. After it is broadcast on More4 - a digital channel that is free but not available to everyone here - it will be aired 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 Bush is shot. The picture, which has been reprinted extensively in British newspapers, shows the stricken Bush slumping forward into an aide's arms, in front of a shocked, panicking crowd, a bank of cameras flashing behind.
It evokes the iconic photographs of the mortally wounded Robert F. Kennedy, shot after giving a speech in 1968. It also recalls John Hinckley's attempted assassination, in 1981, of Ronald Reagan outside the Hilton Hotel in Washington.
Dale said that the focus of the film was 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 Bush. Suspicion soon focuses on Jamal Abu Zikri, a Syrian-born man.
The movie, Dale said, is "a very powerful examination of what changes are taking place in America" as a result of its foreign policy.
"I believe," he said, "that the effects of the wars that are being conducted in Iraq and Afghanistan 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 previous, 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 over- stretched transportation system in meltdown after a series of mishaps cripples first the railroads and then the roads, leading finally to the point when a passenger jet collides with a freight plane over Hounslow.