11?09"01, France, 2002
It is hard to find a seat at the Venice International Film Festival for the premiere of the film called 11'09"01. As the lights dim we are soon effected by images and sounds of 9/11 and the messages of 11 filmmakers, given $400,000 each to make a film 11 minutes, nine seconds and one frame. The title of the film corresponds to the date of the attack as it is written in France and produced by French media giant Vivendi Universal's StudioCanal and Galatee Films.
A couple of the films are critical of US foreign policy.There are reminders of the suffering other countries have endured by wars on their soil at the hands of US soldiers. This must be considered in relation to what happened in NYC on 9/11 suggests Brit filmmaker Ken Loach and Egyptian Youssef Chahine.
In the UK segment Loach shows the testimony of a London based political refugee from Chile who remembers another 9/11 in 1973 where American trained soldiers tortured people, applied electro-shock to genitalia, trained dogs to rape women. There is a huge applause for this inclusion and Loach won the prize for best short film by international critics at the awards ceremony in Venice September 8.
Youssef Chahine tells the story of an American soldier returned from the dead after being killed in a terrorist attack in Lebanon. He learns about other events that the US has orchestrated from Japan to the Middle East and is grateful to be enlightened.
One of the Muslim children of the first film by Samira Makhmalbaf, the Iranian segment, wonders if 'God punished the Americans' with the WTC collapse? There is a slight applause somewhere up front. But the film pays homage to the victims of the attack and helps the children to understand what happened.
In Sean Penn's US segment a widower who carefully lays out clothing for his dead wife is awoken on September 11 by strong sunlight and we see the shadows in his apartment of a tall shape diminish leaving a huge cloud. In a burst of magic realism, his flowers bloom and he sheds tears because his wife never got to see this. Maybe it's not political enough, or too personal because there is a loud BOO from someone in the audience. It seems hard to take in because of the politics of preceding film segments, strong, unavoidable in your face, with images of Bush threatening to 'punish the evil doers'.
But what follows takes us on another journey. In the Mexican segment by Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu we hear the sounds of crashing steel, sounds of people in panic, 911 calls, cell phones, answering machines. We see people jumping from the Twin Towers, one by one, flittering images to an otherwise black screen with only a soundtrack. An aerial view of the Towers is shown with black smoke billowing from the WTC. Inarritu's question at the end is powerful: 'Does God's light lead us or blind us'? Equally Shoehei Imamura's parable on a man who becomes a snake asks if there is such thing as a Holy War?
These are themes that require reflection. These are the segments that we will think about and ponder. We have learned something from the WTC no matter where. It was a global assault and has become a global concern. Judging by this film, the learning is ongoing.
Criticism of the film at the festival was directed at what can be perceived as an anti-American bias, with cheers in the audience for some of the critical commentary of the pieces. The dissident voices of the film are perhaps important to hear because they exist in the world. The film will be released on September 11 in France, Belgium and Italy and at the Toronto Film Festival but not in the US still in mourning.
This Moira Sullivan for Movie Magazine International, Venice Italy
© 2002 - Moira Sullivan - Air Date: 9/11/02
France, UK, 2002