Movie Review: On Native Soil

By Joan K. Widdifield, Psy.D
Movie Magazine International
Watching the new documentary “On Native Soil,” based on the 9/11 Commission Hearings, reminded me how effective our minds are at protecting us. When the memories of the attack came surging back through hearing the stories and watching the images of the attack - I realized that the psychological defense that Freud called “suppression” is my friend - enabling me to function in the world – while filtering out unbearable realities.

But, like a child who wants the same story read over and over again, even though I know the ending "On Native Soil" kept me riveted. Director Linda Ellman begins the film in Afghanistan in 1997, with former CNN Producer Peter Bergen interviewing Osama bin Laden, who clearly states his plan to attack the U.S.

Through interviews and archival footage, Ellman provides a comprehensive picture of the disaster, structuring the story around the Commission hearings. It tells the dramatic story of how the survivors had to fight tooth and nail to ensure the Commission would be assembled and it's document disseminated to the public. The film’s depiction of the survivors is deeply reverential, portraying them as an intelligent, tenacious group of citizens.

“On Native Soil” is carefully nonpartisan, parceling blame to both the Bush and Clinton administrations. It elucidates the tragic and fatal lapses in our country’s emergency response system, and the communication failures that led to the Tower 2 workers to be directed back to work because "everything was safe" - with catastrophic results. Hearing the recording of the incompetent and apathetic FAA agent, and other responders charged with protecting American citizens, was painful. It was as if their psychological defenses were protecting them from believing what was happening right then and their – to the detriment of many.

Of all the officials interviewed in the Hearings, there is only one who admits there were mistakes and apologizes to the survivors. This, the survivors said, was very meaningful to them.

“On Native Soil” has a slick, high-end look. The celebrity narration by Hilary Swank and Kevin Costner was stilted and a bit intrusive.

Ellman has crafted a substantive and worthy chronicle of the history that we all share. I was taken by surprise by how moving it was, because I thought those feelings were long buried. Happily, after finishing the screening of “On Native Soil,” my protective mechanisms are back at work again.

For Movie Magazine, this is Joan Widdifield.
Air date: 8/9/06
More Information:
On Native Soil
Director: Linda Ellman; Documentary based on the 9/11 Commission Hearings.