Dir. Gabriel Range. UK. 2006. 93mins.
The blurring of reality and fiction takes anintriguing step sideways in Death Of APresident, a mock documentary that posits the assassination of George WBush and the political shockwaves such an event would surely generate. Nosurprise, the film, which world premiered at Toronto and won the FIPRESCIprize, has generated shockwaves of its own within North America - generallyfrom people who have not seen the film - and spurred several distribution deals, including to Newmarket Films in the US and MaplePictures in Canada; it was also acquired by Indie Circle for Lucky Red in Italy and Haut Et Court in France among others.
Theatricalsuccess is less certain. The film will appeal to the same audience that ralliedto Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11but is unlikely to stoke similar word of mouth. The reality of the film doesnot match the expectation, although it does improve as it goes along.
Grangeuses the conventions of the investigative documentary form - retrospectiveinterviews, news footage from the time - but all of the former and most of thelatter is manufactured. That which isn't manufactured is either doctored - theactors from the interviews are digitally inserted into actual footage of Bushduring a visit to Chicago - or is re-contextualisedby association. For example, the Syrian foreign minister's denial of Syrianinvolvement in the 2004 assassination of Lebanese president RafikHariri is simply re-purposed.
Thefilm's strength is in its political modeling and extrapolation. Range posits aconvincing aftermath where the new president, Dick Cheney, uses the fact thatthe alleged assassin is a Syrian immigrant as a pretext for an invasion ofSyria. Meanwhile, a reinvigorated US Department of Homeland Security is givenmore latitude in its use of surveillance of US citizens.
It's notclear how far back from the future the film is looking as it recounts the 2007'assassination' (in Chicago) but it's close enough that the death of thispresident is still directly influencing world politics and yet far enough thata talking-head Secret Service agent can admit to having flubbed the assignmentof protecting the leader of the free world.
YetRange is unexacting in the construction of this erzatzdocumentary. The fake news footage is uneven in texture and tone - some isquite convincing (the Chicago assassination itself is more intuited thanobserved; there's no Zappruder moment) but other bitsare jarringly amateurish; that is to say, too good to be real. It would havebeen more authentic had Range inserted clearly identified 'reconstructions' ofevents.
The'interviews' are similarly disparate. Some are brilliantly contrived: the 'forensicexpert' is just the right kind of sharp-eyed nebbish who would resign overclaims of interference. Others stray off-topic. Inaverting accusations that this project is an exercise in wishful thinking,Range includes an 'interview' with Bush's 'speech-writer'; her fawning 'remembrances'play well but they have no real place in a story with this much intrigue.
Putanother way: if Bush really was killed and the murderer turned out to be a homegrownkiller, the resulting documentary would not have wasted its breath on theplatitudes of a minor functionary.
It seemscounter-intuitive to fault a film for failing to make the grade in a categoryto which it does not belong but the film's commercial potential will surelyhinge on the plausibility of the film as a documentary as much as theplausibility of the events that documentary purports to document.
c/o Borough Films
Michael Reilly Burke
M Neko Parham