According to the Death of a President's website: "Winner of the International Critics’ Prize at the Toronto Film Festival,” “DEATH OF A PRESIDENT” is conceived as a fictional TV documentary broadcast in 2008, reflecting on another monstrously despicable and cataclysmic event: the assassination of President George W. Bush on October 19th, 2007. The “documentary” combines archival footage and carefully composed interviews, presented in a respectful and dignified manner. Exciting and questioning, it refashions the event into a riveting story.
The film opens with the ferocious energy of a Tarantino or Oliver Stone movie, as frenetically edited archival footage thrusts us into a raging crowd of protesters, waiting for President Bush’s procession. The President is portrayed as a sympathetic and likable man–beloved by those close to him and charming to his followers. As the President gives a patriotic speech inside a hotel, the demonstrators’ fury increases to the breaking point. The tension mounts until the horrible instant where the President is assassinated.
After the assassination, the film shifts into the style of a mystery, and follows the FBI’s hunt for the assassin. All the suspects are interviewed except one, the Syrian man who is convicted and put on death row. There is much circumstantial evidence against him. But is he guilty of the crime? Or does his being Middle Eastern provide a convenient excuse to label the death of the President as an Act of Terror?
Director Gabriel Range previously used the device of a “retrospective documentary” in his celebrated 2003 film “The Day Britain Stopped,” about a chain of events that led to a breakdown of the country’s transport system and nearly a hundred fatalities. Both of these films have been acclaimed for the technical virtuosity with which they combine archival footage and filmed scenes to create disturbingly real visions of catastrophes.
“Death of a President” was honored by The International Critics Prize Jury (FIPRESCI) at Toronto for “the audacity with which it distorts reality, to reveal a larger truth.”
Reviews from people who haven’t seen the film:
“I think it’s despicable.” ~Senator Hillary Clinton, New York (D)
“I find this shocking, I find it disturbing. I don’t know if there are many people in America who would want to watch something like that.” ~Gretchen Esell, Republican Party of Texas
“We are not commenting because it doesn’t dignify a response.” ~Emily Lawrimore, White House spokesperson.
“It’s awfully hard if you’re his children, his wife, his mother, his dad; there’s a certain thing we can’t lose as human beings, which is empathy for maybe the hardest job in the world. Whether we think it’s being performed right or not we can’t, like, wish… or think that’s even cute.” ~Kevin Costner
Date: September 10, 2006
Abstract: "Death of a President" is a 2006 British high concept motion picture about the fictional assassination of George W. Bush, the 43rd U.S. President, on 19 October 2007 in Chicago, Illinois. The film is presented as a future history mockumentary and uses actors, archival video footage as well as computer-generated special effects to present the hypothetical aftermath the event had on civil liberties, racial profiling, journalistic sensationalism and foreign policy.
Broadcast in the year 2008, the film is presented in a TV documentary style format, combining talking head interviews, news coverage clips and video surveillance footage surrounding the assassination of U.S. President George W. Bush in Chicago around a year earlier on 19 October 2007. The president is fatally shot by a sniper after he addresses an economic forum at the Chicago Sheraton Hotel, before which an anti-war rally had taken place.
News outlets immediately begin reporting on the incident along with its political ramifications. After authorities earlier arrest and interrogate war-protesting detainees such as Frank Molini (Jay Whittaker) and Samir Masri (Seena Jon); an IT professional of Syrian origin, Jamal Abu Zikri (Malik Bader), becomes the prime suspect.
Vice President Dick Cheney, now president, uses the possible al-Qaeda relationship in connection with the suspected assassin, Zikri, to push his own domestic political security agenda. He calls for the legislation of PATRIOT Act III, trying to increase the investigative powers of the FBI, the police, and other government agencies over U.S. citizens and resident aliens as he contemplates attacking Syria.
As his wife Zahra (Hend Ayoub) listens to the verdict with family
attorney Dawn Norton (Patricia Buckley) in a packed courtroom, Zikri is
convicted of killing the U.S. President and sentenced to death based upon dubious forensic
evidence. Meanwhile, a new report which surfaces, substantiated by
interviews with Marianne Claybon (Chavez Ravine), indicates that the
perpetrator is most likely her husband Al Claybon (Tony Dale), a veteran
of the 1991 Persian Gulf War, who lived in Rock Island, Illinois, and who also was the father of David Claybon, a U.S. soldier recently killed in the Iraq War.
|Everything I stood for and raised you to stand for has turned bad. There's no honor in dying for an immoral cause. For lies. I love my country, but I love God, and the sons He gave me even more. I must do the right thing by you and by David. George Bush killed our David, and I cannot forgive him for that.|
Ten months after President Bush's assassination, Zikri remains on death row at the Stateville Correctional Center, because government officials are deliberately delaying his legal appeal. Moreover, in his dead father's Rock Island house, Casey Claybon finds evidence of his father's planning of the shooting. The most incriminating piece of evidence is a copy of a top secret presidential itinerary outlining, to the minute, President Bush's Chicago whereabouts on 19 October 2007. The news report ends while the U.S. Government continues investigating how presidential assassin Al Claybon obtained that top secret document.
The final closing titles of the film inform the viewer that President Cheney's USA PATRIOT Act III, was signed into permanent law in the U.S., stating the following: "It has granted investigators unprecedented powers of detention and surveillance, and further expanded the powers of the executive branch".Filming
The funeral scenes in the film include footage taken from archival coverage of President Reagan's funeral, and President Cheney's eulogy for President Bush is a news clip of Cheney's eulogy for Reagan. CGI special effects and existing footage of President Bush helped to re-create the filming of his assassination. The rifle used by the perpetrator in the film was actually an airsoft replica of an AR-15. Image editing software was used to add the actors' images to photographs with President Bush.
Although all imagery related to Bush's assassination was created using digital special effects, an apparent actual death, captured on tape, is included in the film during a piece of war footage in which an Iraqi insurgent prepares to launch a rocket, but is shot in the head first. Except for specific scenes, most of the actors portrayed in the film were not told of the premise surrounding the story.
During a post emergency surgery news conference, the chief physician's comment that he had "never seen such a strong heart in a man of the president's age", is a reference to President Ronald Reagan's own assassination attempt. In addition, the interview of a middle-aged African American outside the hospital is also a reference to a similar interview of a witness on the streets of Washington, D.C. in 1981 following that assassination attempt. Filming was done entirely on location in Chicago, IllinoisReception
The central conceit of "Death of a President" was much criticised by those who believed it exploited the subject of presidential assassination, and that by doing so, was in bad taste. Gretchen Esell of the Texas Republican Party described the subject matter saying, "I find this shocking, I find it disturbing. I don't know if there are many people in America who would want to watch something like that." Hillary Clinton, then junior United States Senator from New York, told The Journal News of Rockland, Westchester, and Putnam counties at the annual New Castle Community Day in Chappaqua that, "I think it's despicable. I think it's absolutely outrageous. That anyone would even attempt to profit on such a horrible scenario makes me sick."
Simon Finch, the co-screenwriter, replied saying that Clinton had not seen the film when she commented. The Bush administration did not comment about the film; as White House spokesperson Emily Lawrimore remarked, "We are not commenting because it doesn't dignify a response." Two U.S. cinema chains, Regal and Cinemark, refused to screen "Death of a President", which was distributed by Newmarket Films in the United States. CNN and NPR also refused to broadcast advertisements for the film.
Critics had varied opinions about "Death of a President". The Metacritic aggregate website rated it at 49, "Mixed or Average", based upon 30 reviews. Rotten Tomatoes rated it at 37%, "Rotten", based upon 90 reviews. In Time magazine, Richard Corliss said it was "engrossing, but not enthralling", placing it in the context of other fictional assassinations, such as The Assassination of the Duke of Guise (1908), Suddenly (1954) and television programmes like 24 (2001–2010); concluding that it was "not an incendiary documentary, but a well-made political thriller." In the Village Voice, J. Hoberman said it was "dramatically inert, but a minor techno-miracle" and that it "skews more theoretical than sensationalist ... Bush is presented as a martyr." James Berardinelli commented that "If this was a serious examination of the possible long-term ramifications of George Bush's current foreign policy, or if it had anything interesting to say about Bush's legacy, it might be justifiable. But that's not the case. The decision to use Bush rather than a fictional representation of him is for no reason other than self-promotion."
Of the critics who liked "Death of a President", Rex Reed of The New York Observer identified the film as "Clever, thoughtful, and totally believable. This is a film without a political agenda that everyone should see." In the Toronto Star, Peter Howell said, "The film's deeper intentions ... elevate it into the company of such landmark works of historical argument as Peter Watkins's The War Game, Costa-Gavras's Z and, closer to home, Michel Brault's Les Ordres. Every thinking person should see Death of a President." In Film Journal International, Frank Lovece mused that the film's condemnation "by politicians and pundits from James Pinkerton to Hillary Clinton is understandable and completely predictable: They can't not comment, so when they do, they have to play to their audiences. None of them seriously believes that this work of fiction will really make someone take a potshot at the president, and anyway, the attempt on President Ronald Reagan's life came out of a crazy guy's fascination with Jodie Foster, so you may as well decry movies starring blonde former child actresses." Jim Emerson, editor of RogerEbert.com exclaimed, "Death of a President is electrifying drama, and compellingly realistic. The actors chosen for interview segments (including the mom from Freaks & Geeks as a presidential speechwriter) are unerringly authentic as real people, speaking spontaneously before a documentary lens -- even when it's clear they've rehearsed in their heads what they're going to say, and may even have told these same stories any number of times before."
The film won a total of 6 awards including; the International Critics Prize (FIPRESCI) from the 2006 Toronto Film Festival, the International Emmy Award for the TV Movie/Mini-Series category in the (UK), the RTS Television Award in the Digital Channel Programme category from the Royal Television Society, the RTBF TV Prize for Best Picture Award from the Brussels European Film Festival for director Gabriel Range, the Banff Rockie Award from the Banff Television Festival for the film, and one for director Gabriel Range. The film also received a nomination for Best Visual Effects from the British Academy TV Awards in 2007.
The official premiere was at the 2006 Toronto International Film Festival on 10 September 2006.
In Europe, it was broadcast in the UK on 9 October (More4), 19 October 2006 (Channel 4), in Finland on 18 October 2007 and in Switzerland on 21 August 2011 (SF 1).
Newmarket paid one million dollars for the U.S. distribution rights. The total production budget for the film is estimated to have been two million dollars. The film was screened in the U.S. for 14 days, showing at 143 theatres at its widest release. Worldwide, it grossed $869,352. The Japanese motion picture ethics committee, the Eirin, prevented Death of a President from being shown in most cinemas in 2007, saying that the film's Japanese title ("Bush Ansatsu", translated as "Bush Assassinated") is inappropriate. The film was scheduled to begin showing in Japanese cinemas on 6 October 2007 (Wikipedia, 2011).