CANNES, France (Reuters) - A documentary film that features a paparazzi photograph of Princess Diana dying after a car crash in Paris in 1997 has stirred controversy, three days before it is shown to the media and potential buyers in Cannes.
"Unlawful Killing," directed by British actor Keith Allen and backed by Mohamed al-Fayed, whose son Dodi died with Diana, is due to be screened at the Cannes film festival on Friday.
A spokesman for the film's backers sought to play down the significance of the controversial image being aired, after a friend of Princess Diana expressed anger at the movie.
"The picture has been published in full before, in many parts of the world," the spokesman said in an email to Reuters.
"We acquired the image from an Italian magazine, which had already published it in full. It is also widely available on the web. Only in Britain did the press choose to black out her face.
"Our film is not being shown in the UK and the trailer is only viewable in the UK on the official movie website. We are therefore not publishing anything that the rest of the world has not already seen elsewhere."
But friends of the princess, whose death marked a low point in the British monarchy's popularity with the public, reacted angrily.
"If this is true this is absolutely disgusting," said Rosa Monckton, who went on holiday with Diana a few weeks before she died.
"The fact people are trying to make money -- which is all that they are doing now -- out of her death is quite frankly ... words fail me," she told Britain's Daily Mail newspaper on Tuesday.
The movie aims to prove that a 2007/8 inquest into Diana's death was a cover-up by the "establishment" and "dark forces," according to a statement from the film makers.
Fayed has long maintained that the couple was killed on the orders of Queen Elizabeth's husband, Prince Philip. Fayedbelieves the royal family could not bear the idea of Diana marrying a Muslim.
Major investigations by French and British police have concluded the deaths were a tragic accident caused by a speeding chauffeur, who was found to be drunk. They both have rejected Fayed's conspiracy theories.
Allen said in a statement: "Screening this film in Cannes for the world's media will be both exhilarating and terrifying for me."
He said he went "undercover" at the inquest, and described his experience as "horrifying.
"This is not about a conspiracy before the crash, but about a provable cover-up after the crash," he added. "This film is, in short, the inquest of the inquest."
A spokesman for Fayed told the Daily Mail: "He was not aware that any photograph taken of any occupant of the car was going to be in this film. He is appalled by that and will be taking all necessary steps to make sure it is not in the film."
Reporting by Mike Collett-White; Editing By Jill Serjeant