Monday, August 29, 2005

11'09''01 (Various, 2002)

Over the past four years, we have often heard the phrase: “Nothing is the same after September 11th.” Though few would argue that the horrific images from that day will ever be forgotten by those who were alive to witness them, there is also a bit of naivety inherent in the statement. It paints the terrorist attacks on New York City and Washington D.C. as a beginning. Perhaps this should not be surprising since for many Americans, September 11th did indeed mark the awakening of their political consciousness. The full story, of course, is more complex and extends not only beyond American borders, but back in time through generations. The greatest value of the multi-director film project, 11'09''01, is that it provides us with a vivid picture of the shockwave that reverberated around the globe on that miserable day and simultaneously places the event in historical and geopolitical context, illustrating that, sadly, September 11th was indeed more of the same, the most spectacular moment in a seemingly unending cycle of cruelty and violence.

There is a Monty Python sketch in which a news anchor broadcasts the news, except he presents everything from the perspective of birds. There is a horrible plane crash, but the reporter assures us that no birds were injured. The point being, of course, that we inevitably view everything in life through our own particular lens that is colored by who we are. I was reminded of this as I took in each of the 11-minute short films submitted by directors from all over the globe. While each film acknowledged the overwhelming awfulness of the 9/11 attacks (with varying degrees of sympathy), many strove to draw connections to violence and misery experienced on a daily basis in their own countries: bombings in Israel, war atrocities in Bosnia, poverty in Africa, racial profiling experienced by Pakistani-Americans, political instability in Chile. Though some may prefer a straightforward, unquestioning tribute to those who lost their lives on that day, full of waving flags and bombastic anthems, I greatly appreciated the way in which conflicting perspectives were allowed to co-mingle, inspiring debate and pushing for problem-solving. Unlike many multi-director projects in which the film falls apart due to a lack of coherent focus, 11'09''01 thrives from presenting a diversity of opinions. Some criticisms of American policy are put forward more tactfully than others (the Egyptian entry, directed by Youssef Chahine felt particularly strident to me), but I would be remiss in faulting the film simply because there were perspectives with which I did not agree. This, after all, is the goal of 11'09''01: to expose the gaps in our communication and find where we can come together in mutual understanding and ensure that something like 9/11 never happens again. It is cinema functioning as a sort of international town hall.

Beyond that, there is some virtuoso filmmaking on display here. I was delighted to be exposed for the first time to many directors whose names I had heard tossed about but who were unfamiliar to me – from Israeli director Amos Gitai’s impressive unbroken sequence shot in the wake of a fictional car bombing, to Shohei Imamura’s strange tale of a man turned snake to Idrissa Ouedraogo’s comic tale of a young boy who thinks he has spotted Osama Bin Laden. I must also mention that I was completely horrified and tensely riveted by Mexican director Alejandro Gonzalez Innaritu’s harrowing minimalist film/sound collage in which real audio clips from the day’s events are used to create a visceral 11-minute impressionistic summation, capped with a final moment of transcendent poetry.

11'09''01 is a film that effectively demonstrates that art, when used responsibly, can go beyond mere entertainment and have a tangible social function if we are willing to listen, engage and respond. With the four-year anniversary of 9/11 rapidly approaching and terrorism still a topic pervasive in international headlines, I hope that more people are now ready to do so.



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