The most controversial film at the Toronto Film Festival this year was a title that was at first only identified as “D.O.A.P.” Festival organizers hoped to avoid controversy before the festival by waiting to reveal the full title, “Death of a President.”
This bold and controversial “what if” film, made for British television by director Gabriel Range, was a last-minute entry.
The theme of the fictional film is shocking, with the dramatized assassination of President George W. Bush at the Sheraton Hotel in Chicago on Oct. 19, 2007.
The audacious act of selecting President Bush as the victim raised many eyebrows.
Director Range felt using the real president made the film more relevant and realistic. Rather than a sensationalist anti-Bush diatribe, the story sets forth an analysis of what would happen in the aftermath of such a world-shaking event.
Filmed in a clinically detailed fashion, amazingly realistic, the film addresses in what manner the government and the media would go after the perpetrator and how this “next act of terror” would affect our quickly diminishing civil liberties.
The director’s cinematic style in the film shares much in common with another British director, Peter Watkins. Watkins is viewed as the master and originator of the “you are there” style.
Watkins made the Academy Award-winning 1965 film “The War Game,” a realistic, fictional account of a nuclear attack on Britain produced by the BBC for television. So real and frightening were the images in the film that it was ultimately banned and not shown in England until decades later.
Range continues this style with his movie, which won the international critics award at the festival. The critics praised the film “for the audacity with which it distorts reality to reveal a larger truth.”
Clever and seamless splicing of historical footage with the fictional story makes it appear as if you’re watching the real thing. Actual footage of mass protests mixed with acted scenes flows naturally. When Bush goes down in front of the Sheraton Hotel, the audience gasps at the realism, as some protesters cheer while others are overcome with shock.
Cheney’s eulogy at the president’s funeral is cleverly extracted from the speech he gave at Reagan’s funeral, while radio and television reports taken from real programs are edited into the story in a seamless manner.
Range uses this premise to analyze the aftereffects of such an act. Many have pondered the future of our country in the event of another terrorist attack.
“Death of a President” probes the chilling possibilities that might result from our expanding military state, with diminishing civil rights and limited freedoms.
Another featured film was Spike Lee’s masterful “When the Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts,” shown on HBO, which received its big screen premiere at the Toronto festival.
Poignant interviews with the survivors of Hurricane Katrina, the worst natural disaster in American history, capture the anger and frustration directed at our government and its slow response to the disaster.
Heartbreaking footage of people describes how they tried to overcome the force of Katrina and the tragic failure of a timely and adequate support system. Many stories, quite often involving poor people of color, relate how local residents were victimized and intentionally overlooked by our government.
Lee also reveals several interviews that speak to the serious rumors of an intentional breach of the levees.
The film soundtracks a moving musical score by jazz great Terrence Blanchard, who is also interviewed and shown walking with his trumpet through the devastated streets of his hometown.
This compelling and moving four-part documentary is one of Spike Lee’s best.