Old MCN Blogs
David Poland

By David Poland poland@moviecitynews.com

Playing Politics With 'Death of a President'

No film could have stood up to the film festival hype that was piled onto DEATH OF A PRESIDENT, a faux documentary about the crimes against justice committed after the assassination of the U.S. president — President George W. Bush.

Though many political pundits are having a hard time believing this, the film’s “what if?” form is a means to get people thinking about what’s happening now–not an excuse to do evil, whenever.
With its incendiary subject matter and election-year timing, Death of a President was bound to be in the spotlight. Then festival programmer Noah Cowan, in his notes on the film, wrote that Death of a President is “easily the most dangerous and breathtakingly original film I have encountered this year.”

So like hundreds of other reporters and critics at the Toronto Film festival, I lined up for at least two hours to make sure I got into the first press and industry screening of Death of a President — I heard that at least 150 people were turned away. (WHEN CRITICS SWARM! If only the Fox TV reality show cameras had been there. It wasn’t pretty.)
I spoke to Gabriel Range this week about why he believes his approach, the “what if?” docudrama, can attract a larger audience than a straight up documentary about the Patriot Act (which is what his movie’s really about.) The interview is in Sunday’s New York Daily News. The film opens Friday, Oct. 27.

Set one year from now in a politically divided war-wearied America, DOAP begins in Chicago, where anti-war protests grow larger and more violent by the day. Director Gabriel Range, a BBC-schooled documentary maker, makes great use of news and archive footage of real protests in the Chicago’s urban canyons, letting his actors move in and out of the action. (A techique he borrowed from Haskell Wexler, who shot MEDIUM COOL in Chicago during the 1968 Democratic convention.)

A couple of comments that didn’t make it into the interview.
Range has taken a ridiculous amount of heat from critics who haven’t seen the film. First, he’s not a wild-eyed Bush hater, or Bush hater, period–he thinks that the press conferences and speeches filmed by his crew and included in DOAP depict the President as he is, “a leader with a great deal of rapport with his audience. I want to say again, I’m not anti-Bush or even anti-Republican. I seriously question how different things would be if there were a Democratic administration in the White House right now. I still think there would be some version of the Patriot Act, with all its attendant effects.

He didn’t have time to elaborate upon that idea. His next film will be a straight up narrative documentary about a well known public figure “who is very much on our minds but whom we know very little about.”

It will NOT be, he says, a faux documentary.

The DEATH OF A PRESIDENT website (it’s distributed by Newmarket)
Another link to the interview

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It shows how out of it I was in trying to be in it, acknowledging that I was out of it to myself, and then thinking, “Okay, how do I stop being out of it? Well, I get some legitimate illogical narrative ideas” — some novel, you know?

So I decided on three writers that I might be able to option their material and get some producer, or myself as producer, and then get some writer to do a screenplay on it, and maybe make a movie.

And so the three projects were “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep,” “Naked Lunch” and a collection of Bukowski. Which, in 1975, forget it — I mean, that was nuts. Hollywood would not touch any of that, but I was looking for something commercial, and I thought that all of these things were coming.

There would be no Blade Runner if there was no Ray Bradbury. I couldn’t find Philip K. Dick. His agent didn’t even know where he was. And so I gave up.

I was walking down the street and I ran into Bradbury — he directed a play that I was going to do as an actor, so we know each other, but he yelled “hi” — and I’d forgot who he was.

So at my girlfriend Barbara Hershey’s urging — I was with her at that moment — she said, “Talk to him! That guy really wants to talk to you,” and I said “No, fuck him,” and keep walking.

But then I did, and then I realized who it was, and I thought, “Wait, he’s in that realm, maybe he knows Philip K. Dick.” I said, “You know a guy named—” “Yeah, sure — you want his phone number?”

My friend paid my rent for a year while I wrote, because it turned out we couldn’t get a writer. My friends kept on me about, well, if you can’t get a writer, then you write.”
~ Hampton Fancher

“That was the most disappointing thing to me in how this thing was played. Is that I’m on the phone with you now, after all that’s been said, and the fundamental distinction between what James is dealing with in these other cases is not actually brought to the fore. The fundamental difference is that James Franco didn’t seek to use his position to have sex with anyone. There’s not a case of that. He wasn’t using his position or status to try to solicit a sexual favor from anyone. If he had — if that were what the accusation involved — the show would not have gone on. We would have folded up shop and we would have not completed the show. Because then it would have been the same as Harvey Weinstein, or Les Moonves, or any of these cases that are fundamental to this new paradigm. Did you not notice that? Why did you not notice that? Is that not something notable to say, journalistically? Because nobody could find the voice to say it. I’m not just being rhetorical. Why is it that you and the other critics, none of you could find the voice to say, “You know, it’s not this, it’s that”? Because — let me go on and speak further to this. If you go back to the L.A. Times piece, that’s what it lacked. That’s what they were not able to deliver. The one example in the five that involved an issue of a sexual act was between James and a woman he was dating, who he was not working with. There was no professional dynamic in any capacity.

~ David Simon