11’09”01 – September 11 Film Review | TIFF 2002

by W. Andrew Powell

Taking on the events of September 11th in the form of 11 short films, which are all 11 minutes, nine seconds and one frame long, was risky business. Especially from the perspective of 11 culturally diverse filmmakers from around the world that don’t all view the events in a sympathetic light. In response to the film, many Americans who saw the film were in fact more insulted than pleased, but that’s a partial victory for the films that mostly have no qualms about being blunt and honest about what September 11th means to the world.

Take the film by British filmmaker Ken Loach which elegantly, but harshly, talks about the September 11 of 1973 when CIA-backed forces assassinated the Chilean President, Salvador Allende, to help overthrew the government. The resulting chaos was one of the bloodiest coups in that country’s history.

Another slightly harsh film by Egyptian filmmaker Youssef Chahine looks closely at terrorism and has a sordid debate between a Palestinian suicide bomber and a U.S. Marine that was killed in a bomb blast in Beirut.

But, quite honestly, the voices of these filmmakers are buried once you look at the big picture behind these films and the talent that went into some of the productions. Most notably, Mexican Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu‘s film that personifies the horror of the disaster, showing only a black screen that is broken by sounds, chanting, and brief glimpses of bodies falling from the towers, is one of the most startling films I’ve ever seen… even if it’s also one of the hardest films to watch.

Other films by Sean Penn, Claude Lelouch, and Idrissa Ouedraogo also provide compelling and impressive visions that look at love, loss, and even some lighter moments that embody many of the most potent feelings that came out of the disaster that affected almost everyone around the world.

These main films aside, there are still far too many slow, off-beat, or weird films to make this project an entire success. Shohei Imamura‘s Japanese film that looks at the resonant story of a World War II veteran is the definitely the worst of this bunch and finishes the film on exactly the wrong note, making you feel more dead inside and lost, rather than thoughtful or respective.

Along with similarly weak films by Samira Makhmalbaf and Amos Gitai, there’s little chance of loving the entire collection since too many films go on too long, or bring out sentiments that just don’t lead you anywhere. That’s the main reason I felt this film only deserved a 6.5 out of 10, since the 3 or 4 best films could easily rate as high as a 9 or 9.5. But, I suppose that this diversity was probably one of the main reasons the producers of the collection went for filmmakers from so many countries… I’m just not convinced it worked to best evoke every emotion and thought that must have poured through the world when the two towers fell.

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