Assassination film stirs British uproar

Some critics said the work should not be viewed as serious filmmaking.
LONDON -- Nearly every British newspaper carried photos Friday of the "assassination" of President Bush -- or, rather, the eerily realistic depiction of it from a new documentary-style television film that is causing an uproar in Britain.
The film, "Death of a President," has been alternatively derided as a tasteless publicity grab and defended as a serious look at a plausible event that could have dramatic ramifications for the world.
"It's a disturbing film," said Peter Dale, head of More4, the television channel that will telecast the film in England in October. It is scheduled to debut this month -- on the eve of the fifth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks -- at the Toronto Film Festival.
"It raises questions about the effects of American foreign policy and particularly the war on terror," said Dale, who denied criticism that the film made an anti-Bush or anti-American political statement. "It's a fairly attention-grabbing premise, but behind that is a serious and thought-provoking film."
The premise
In the film, Bush is assassinated by a sniper after making a speech in Chicago in October 2007. The investigation immediately centers on a Syrian-born gunman, and a shocked nation confronts the war on terror in the post-Bush era.
Dale said the assassination scene, which comes about 10 minutes into the 90-minute film, is a glimpse rather than "a gratuitously lengthy gazing kind of scene." He said it was "very small in comparison to the blood and death we see daily in the news" from Iraq.
"We know some people are going to be offended," Dale said. "But you always risk offending people when you open people's eyes to the way the world is. Sometimes the truth is a bit unpalatable."
At the White House, spokesman Emily Lawrimore said of the film: "We are not commenting because it doesn't dignify a response."
Some critics in London scoffed at arguments that the movie was a serious piece of filmmaking. Several said More4, which began broadcasting just 11 months ago, was more interested in ratings than in exploring vital matters of public interest.
"It's about hype rather than a serious matter," said Roy Greenslade, a noted British media critic, who said the film "crossed the line" and was "obviously tasteless."
Realistic 'coverage'
Britons awoke Friday morning to see their morning newspapers carrying a black-and-white promotional photo, with a sort of Dallas-in-1963 feel, showing a mortally wounded Bush dying in a Secret Service agent's arms. Other agents draw guns, cameras flash and people dive for cover in the photo of a filmed scene in which Bush's head was added later to an actor's body by computer.
Greenslade said the photos are so realistic that for a second he thought Bush had actually been assassinated. He said creating such a realistic image of Bush being killed "could convince crazy people that this might be a good idea."
"I'm sure they will cloak it by saying there's a serious point to be made," Greenslade noted. "But isn't there another way? If it had been a fictional president, wouldn't it have made the same point? It just beggars belief that this is the best way to make a serious point."
Dale defended the use of Bush himself, rather than a fictional president, because using a fictional character "wouldn't have the same kind of resonance."
"It's absolutely legitimate to deal with contemporary named figures," he said. "I would urge people to see the film and see if they think it is fair."

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