Although some analysts had predicted that Death of a President, which made its debut at the Toronto Film Festival this week, would never find a distributor -- others had predicted it would never see the light of day in the U.S. -- Newmarket Films announced Monday that it had purchased U.S. distribution rights from producer-director Gabriel Range. It reportedly paid $1 million. Newmarket is the same company that picked up rights to Mel Gibson's equally controversial The Passion of the Christ. President, which is shot as if it were a television documentary, centers on the assassination of George Bush during a visit to Chicago in 2007. Using digital techniques, the filmmakers replaced the head of an actor pretending to be shot with the actual head of George Bush. The movie has been denounced by Bush supporters, including Rush Limbaugh and the Republican Party of Texas, who warn that it could encourage some unbalanced viewer to attempt a copycat crime. But Range told the Toronto audience that "there have been plenty of fictional films about presidential assassinations." Meanwhile, Timemagazine critic Richard Corliss predicted that "the film will be one of those curios that millions of people read about but few pay to see. It will be forgotten in a year -- except by the Secret Service."


The top film at the box office last weekend, the teen warlock flick The Covenant, drew less than $8.9 million-- the lowest figure for a No. 1 in film in three years -- while the No. 2 film, Hollywoodland, which stars Ben Affleck as George Reeves the actor who played Superman TV series in the 1950s, yielded only $5.9 million in ticket sales. The Covenantwas not screened for critics in advance of its opening. In the New York Daily News,critic Elizabeth Weitzman grieved, "Lately, every week seems to bring a new movie so lousy, the studio refuses to show it to critics in advance. This week's gem is The Covenant, Renny Harlin's profoundly mediocre supernatural thriller." Chris Hewitt's review in the St. Paul Pioneer Presswas headlined: "Beyond idiotic." And, noting that the film is about descendants of the original Massachusetts witches, Kyle Smith in the New York Post at least got a terrific one-liner out of it all: "If this mild teen thriller were a cigarette, it would be a Salem light."

The top ten films over the weekend, according to final figures compiled by Exhibitor Relations (figures in parentheses represent total gross to date):

1. The Covenant, Screen Gems, $8,852,485, (New); 2. Hollywoodland, Focus Features, $5,926,177, (New); 3. Invincible, Disney, $5,630,126, 3 Weeks, ($45,500,634); 4. The Protector, Weinstein Co. $5,034,180, (New); 5. Crank, Lionsgate, $4,904,308, 2 Weeks, ($19,962,812); 6. The Illusionist, Yari Film Group, $4,514,306, 4 Weeks, ($17,963,845); 7. Little Miss Sunshine, Fox Searchlight, $4,273,545, 7 Weeks, ($41,494,873); 8. The Wicker Man, Warner Bros., $4,062,271, 2 Weeks, ($17,433,396); 9.Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby, Sony, $3,012,596, 6 Weeks, ($142,193,465); 10. Barnyard, Paramount, $2,715,092, 6 Weeks, ($67,014,342).


Apple computer is expected to announce an inexpensive iTunes movie download service today (Tuesday), but apparently Disney is the only studio that has agreed to provide movies for it. (Apple CEO Steve Jobs is Disney's largest shareholder.) Reports indicated that Apple is going ahead with its plans for the service in the hope that other studios will be willing to join Disney once they see the revenue potential from providing films online at a fraction of the retail-store prices. The films will reportedly be priced between $9.99 and $14.99.