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Monday, October 23, 2006

TIFF 06 bursts into mainstream this weekend : Death of a President, Shut Up and Sing! Catch a Fire

It's always a bit unsettling having the public intrude into the protective bubble of films that you had battled so hard to see during the time of the 06 Toronto International Film Festival. This week three movies from the festival are opening - of which we have already seen two. [Babel opens in the USA but not here quite yet. Also, American Hardcore which played at the festival leaves the Carlton already, and Terry Gilliam's TIFF 05 entry Tideland closes after one week at the Cumberland].

One of my favourite times at 06 TIFF was a morning with the Dixie Chicks as the centre of the documentary Shut Up and Sing ! The three ladies from Texas are back still not ready to make nice; they're bold and brassier and sassier than ever. Even if you are not devout fans of the trio of ladies in the Dixie Chicks, you will find the film bemusing, amusing, with much laughter and candor.

It's been two long years now
Since the top of the world came crashing down
And I'm getting' it back on the road now

Two years ago these words from Natalie Maines's mouth during their Top of the World tour in Shepherd's Bush in London, England hit the news headlines and brought their own world back home crashing down - the words: "Just so you know, we're ashamed that the president of the United States is from Texas." Back in the USA the Dixie Chicks - Natalie Maines, Emily Robinson, Martie Maguire - were at the height of their popularity but their anti-Iraq war comments against the President sparked protests by callers to radio station in Nashville and the anger kept on snowballing with pickets calling them traitors, radio station boycotts, organized CD burnings. Their former conservative fan base legion of country fans stayed away in droves. This was at a time when Bush's popularity was at its height. The war couldn't have gone better for him. Radio stations south of the Mason-Dixon line boycotted playing the Dixie Chicks and their new singles which debuted in Billboard actually headed downwards from the get-go. The Dixie Chicks toughed it out as seen in Shut Up and Sing! even braving death threats made to the band. The movie covers the hiatus recording their comeback album, flashing back and forwards through time from when they were at the top to the present coping with these new hard times, having babies and dealing with the media, the fans and other issues, the absurdity of it all. They emerge back into the public light with the new Taking the Long Way album and tour - unrepentant and defiant, finding new markets, including Toronto ! [which brought cheers from the Ryerson audience]. "We are sisterhood, we go through the good, the bad and the ugly together." The movie comes full circle back to the scene of the crime Shepherd's Bush in 2005 two years later - it's a different climate - and what more can Natalie say? "We're ashamed that the President of the United States comes from Texas." In the long run, you may find yourself becoming a Dixie Chicks fan!

To cap it all off, the Dixie Chicks are here in Toronto this weekend of October 28 and 29, just in time for the movie opening here Friday.


Is there a problem?

Chicago hates Bush!
Chicago hates Bush!

In the programme book for 06 TIFF the title of this movie was coyly reduced by the organizers to its initials D.O.A.P. This movie got off to a controversial start here at 06 TIFF with an angry question and answer period with press after its world premiere at the Paramount. It was more eerie to see the security guards with their night goggles patrolling up and down the aisles than to watch the proceedings on screen.

Of course, the controversy is over the subject of the material : the death of a president - not just any president - not just another instance of Kiefer Sutherland's 24 or The Sentinel.

This bold and audacious movie made by Channel 4 in England takes documentary to new territory - to dare to not just kill a fictitious president, but THIS president. It is with remarkable adeptness and technical skill that the events of the near future are brought to hyper-realistic play. Using the available footage of archives and blended in with the re-enactment of the people and events of October 19, 2007, the path of inexorable events leading to the death of a president is shown in all its horror. The documentary is further supported by the aid of actual experts, those who were responsible for the security of the President.

The year is 2007. A tide of anger is about to be unleashed on the streets of the Windy city as President George W. Bush is about to land in Air Force One and deliver a speech at the Economic Club in Chicago. Organized militant protesters are lining the street, facing off against a phalanx of police. As the events in Chicago moved inexorably onwards to the climactic moment of the assassination a series of talking heads - those close to the President including his loyal speechwriter, the Secret Service, recount the happenings and slip-ups of that day of October 19, 2007. The head of security notes that things were not going well right from the beginning - during the ride from the airport through downtown Chicago, a protester actually managed to elude security and get close enough to touch the President's car in the calvacade to the hotel. This is a first. And this was just the beginning of many foul-ups.

At the hotel that night, before the Economic Club, it is with some wonderment and marvel that you actually see the President deliver a speech to the throngs in the room - a speech that has never been made before in history - an adept assemblage of words and phrases and delivered entirely naturally.

Then of course at the hotel, the real assassin strikes. The rest of Death of a President deals with trying to capture the culprit and bringing him to justice. Unfortunately one man happens to be at the wrong place at the wrong time is caught on tape, and methods of profiling puts him in the crosshairs of the investigation while the real assassin whose name has been tipped off to the Homeland Security is ignored.

Stretching history with just enough prescience [ could they have foreseen the events of North Korea now unfolding ] to speculate about the future but in actuality the documentary is a castigating look back upon now and the aftermath of the post 911 world of the Freedom Act, which was by 2007 to be further re-enforced by the Freedom III Act - of should we say the unFreedom Act? The film is a highly critical examination of the loss of freedoms and civil liberties since 9/11 and the ever-tightening clamp of government and Big Brother.

Death of a President is a documentary of these times that should not be missed.

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