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Morning Report

Arts And Entertainment Reports From The Times, News Services And The Nation's Press.

January 01, 2002|Elaine Dutka


Mockumentary Targets Microsoft's Bill Gates

A new shock film is set to debut--one in which Microsoft chief Bill Gates is assassinated in the Rampart district of Los Angeles. The movie will premiere at the alternative film festival Slamdance in Park City, Utah, on Jan. 13.

In the mockumentary "Nothing So Strange," the first release from GMD Studios, Gates is shot dead in Los Angeles on Dec. 2, 1999. Though an African American is taken into custody and charged with the crime, skeptical citizens band together to find the truth.

Brian Flemming, coauthor of last year's off-Broadway hit, "Bat Boy: The Musical," and co-founder of the "alternative, alternative" Park City Festival Slumdance, is producing and directing the project which is inspired, he said, by current events.

"I started thinking about the 1963 Kennedy assassination, when no one suspected the Dallas police," he told The Times. "And about the 1968 assassination of Robert Kennedy, when no one questioned the LAPD. Because Rampart was already embroiled in scandal, that seemed like a recipe for serious controversy in any investigation."

Flemming went through a "period of soul-searching," wondering about targeting Gates--a man who's alive and well.

In the end, he says, he dismissed his reservations, which he felt, were grounded less in morality than "fear." "This is a scary, provocative idea," he said, "but that doesn't mean it's wrong."

Microsoft is less than pleased about the project, according to BBC Online: "It's very disappointing that a moviemaker would do something like this," a company spokesman said.

Peter Baxter, head of Slamdance, defends his decision to show the movie--which was made with low-cost digital technology, he said.

"Slamdance gets behind the filmmakers, providing a platform for films that might otherwise not be seen," he said. "We've stood up to pressure before and won't whimper out when the going gets tough."


Suspected Assassin Cast in Film 'Kandahar'?

"Kandahar," the critically acclaimed film directed by Mohsen Makhmalbaf, tells the tale of a Canadian-Afghan woman who enters the Taliban-controlled country to save her suicidal sister. And, according to Time magazine and the BBC News, there's an equally gripping story off-camera.

The featured role of the doctor is played by Hassan Tanti--described on the movie's official Web site as a "Muslim of African American descent" who traveled from the U.S. in 1979 to fight alongside Afghans against Russian invaders.

However, according to published reports, he's really David Belfield, who is under indictment in the U.S. on suspicion of the murder of a former Iranian diplomat.

In 1980 in Bethesda, Md., Ali Akbar Tabatabai, a rabid critic of the fundamentalist Ayatollah Khomeini's regime in Iran, was gunned down outside his home by someone dressed in a letter carrier's uniform.

"We are very comfortable that the man who appears in this film is indeed David Belfield," Maryland state attorney for Montgomery County Doug Gansler told ABC News. "He's an assassin, and he's a terrorist."

In 1995, Belfield seemed to admit in an interview with the network that he was responsible for the crime.

"Oh, I knew I'd hit him," he said. New York-based Avatar Films, the movie's domestic distributor, released a statement in which the director denied knowledge of the actor's past.

"I have always chosen my actors from crowded streets and barren deserts," he said.

"I never ask those who act in my films what they have done before, nor do I follow what they do after I finish shooting my film."

Despite the revelation, it's unlikely that Belfield will be brought to trial, observers say, because Iran would be reluctant to hand over someone suspected of committing a killing for the Khomeini regime.

The film is scheduled to open Jan. 11 in Los Angeles.


Book Burning Sparks Debate in New Mexico

Calling them "a masterpiece of satanic deception, a religious group burned Harry Potter books Sunday in Alamogordo, N.M.

"These books teach children how they can get into witchcraft and become a witch, wizard or warlock," said Jack Brock, founder and pastor of the Christ Community Church.

Across the street was a line of protesters stretched a quarter of a mile long.

"It may be useless, but we want [the church] to know the community is not behind them," said Joann Booth, who took her four grandchildren to the demonstration where one protester dressed as Adolf Hitler.

A letter to the Alamogordo Daily News inviting the community to attend the fires sparked debate in the town of 36,000.

On Tuesday, some locals turned out in front of the public library, holding signs reading "Book burning? Shame on our town."

Not to worry, Brock said. The media attention is actually a blessing.

"There are those that are doing their best to make us look bad," he said. "But, because of this, I've been able to preach the gospel around the world."



O.J. Finds Hip-Hop Salve for the Soul

O.J. Simpson says hip-hop music helped him deal with life in the aftermath of his murder trial.

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