September 11 shorts court controversy at Venice

Preview by Jack Foley

 

 

A COLLECTION of 11 short films which reflect on the attacks on New York and Wasington last year, as viewed from a global perspective, received its world premiere at the Venice Film Festival last week and drew a mixed response.

The series of films, entitled 11'09"01 September 11, has been put together by some of the leading names in world cinema, including Britain's Ken Loach, Hollywood actor/director Sean Penn and Bosnian film-maker Danis Tanovic. Each movie lasts 11 minutes and nine seconds and is shot on a single frame.

But while several of the heartfelt and thought-provoking productions were applauded by the journalists and industry figures present for the screening, others angered some of the Americans in the audience for the way in which they criticised the United States and its foreign policy and its suggestion that the US had forgotten pain and poverty elsewhere in the world.

Among the most controversial was the short feature from Egyptian director Youssef Chahine, which shows a Palestinian suicide attack on Israel and lays part of the blame on Washington. The movie, which drew boos from some viewers, intended to explain that anger towards the US only increased violence in the Middle East.

Needless to say, Americans in the audience found it too one-sided, while one New Yorker accused directors of going too far and claimed there was a 'strong anti-US current' present.

However, Alain Brigand, the producer of the short films, defended the decision to draw on varying perspectives by claiming that he had encouraged the film-makers who agreed to take part to exercise their freedom. For this reason, the shorts will not be shown in America 'while people are still mourning'.

At a press conference before the screening on Friday, Mexican director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu (who helmed Amores Perros and Y Tu Mama Tambien) said that it was right that voices from across the world should be heard and claimed the movies would make people 'think, reflect, consider others and ask themselves questions about what they are doing'.

While Iranian director, Samira Makhmalbaf , referred to the collection of films as 'a healthy dialogue rather than a monologue'.

Producer Brigand went a step further, describing the criticism of the US depicted in some of the film as 'healthy', and adding: "Just because you criticise a country it does not mean you want to undermine it."

All five of the directors who were in Venice to promote the film insisted they would not have agreed to take on the project if they had been forced to follow an editorial line.

Of the movies, Israel's Amos Gitai's short shows a journalist trying to report live from a suicide attack in Tel Aviv, only to be told that something more important is happening in New York, while Gonzalez Inarritu's offering takes the form of a script from witness accounts of the attacks and radio station callers demanding death for terrorists and their families.

The picture is shown against a black screen with flashes of people jumping out of the burning Twin Towers.

Claude Lelouch's featurette tells the September 11 story through the life of a deaf woman breaking up with her boyfriend because the French director claims to have found the 'human level' always more interesting than world events. He claimed that 'for some, the end of a relationship is the end of the world'.

His movie concludes when the woman's prayer for a reconciliatory miracle is answered when her lover comes back to her covered in dust from the collapsed Twin Tower.

Brit film-maker, Ken Loach, meanwhile, said that it was good that there are reminders of the suffering other countries have endured by wars on their soil at the hands of US soldiers. But he maintained that this must be considered in relation to what happened on September 11.

His entry was one of those to be applauded, as did Sean Penn’s US segment (pictured above), featuring a widower who carefully lays out clothing for his dead wife, who is awoken on September 11 by strong sunlight. The film shows the shadows of a tall shape diminish and a huge cloud silhouetted in his apartment, yet in a moment of magic, the man's flowers bloom and he sheds tears because his wife never got to see this.

11'09"01 September 11 is also due to be screened at the Toronto Film Festival.

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