Gabriel Range • Director
by Anne Feuillère
03/07/2007 - A journalist and documentary maker, British director Gabriel Range has co-written, directed and produced a mockumentary on the assassination of George W. Bush and the investigation that follows.
Screening in official competition at the Brussels European Film Festival and soon on release in Belgium through Cinéart, Death of a President [trailer] is based on an imaginary event. Brilliantly directed, more convincing than any protest, the film alone proves that every image is a potential mise-en-scène; that any elaboration of a story is a fiction.
Cineuropa: How did your film come about?
Gabriel Range: I’ve already directed a retrospective mockumentary, The Day Britain Stopped in the same genre, which I co-wrote with Simon Finch. When I lived in New York at the time of September 11, I was hit by the cynicism with which the George W. Bush administration manipulated reality and started the Iraq war: how the event was portrayed in the media and the way war language was used, the vote for the Patriot Act. By making a mockumentary, we show to what point it’s easy to distort reality. There are documentaries on this subject but no-one’s seen them. If the idea of killing George W. Bush is a very provocative one, it’s justified because what it’s about above all is how to manipulate reality and the media. On television, we think that the camera can’t lie. Fox News sells itself with the slogan: "the most trusted news". I don’t think Americans are stupid, but they naively believe in what they see and they believed these lies, to the point where they re-elected Bush.
The film is structured like a crime thriller.
We wanted to make a traditional docudrama, which would have been done in similar circumstances and the film is quite formal. But we wanted it to be modern, like a “whodunit". There’s a natural suspense because we know that the President will be killed but we don’t know when, by whom, why, or where the film is taking us. It’s very exciting to create an alternative reality, but we needed to do that in a way that the viewer could follow.
Did it take you long to make the film?
To tell the truth, no. I did a lot of research before the script, which took us six months to write. Then we filmed for 25 days. All the scenes were made for the film with the exception of the eight-minute archive footage, Bush’s speech in Chicago and Ronald Reagan’s funeral. All together it took nine months.
How did you achieve the film’s visual unity?
We made the film in High Definition. But the image was too attractive, we had to degrade it. Normally you try to have the most attractive image possible, but here we tried to have the dirtiest image possible (laughs!). After many tests and a lot of changes, we then returned to standard DV and even VHS. We also combined images with different textures. When filming, we had to think of who would be filming, in which circumstances, and with what. In the protest scene, for example, a man gets beaten up by the police. We asked ourselves; what would we do in a similar situation? We’d take shots with our mobile phone, which is what we did.