THE POPCORN REEL EDITOR'S DESK - a weekly word about the movies                      

Monday, September 4, 2006


One week from today, the United States will commemorate the traumatic events of five years ago, when America was attacked on its own soil by airplanes which flew into the World Trade Center towers in New York City, a plane or missile damaged the Pentagon in Virginia, and a plane crashed into a field in Pennsylvania.  These events, which still have many unanswered questions and great skepticism in some quarters, caused people within the United States great pain and trauma, as well as overwhelming outpourings of sympathy and support from almost every part of the world.

Now several films which have been released in the North America have stirred pain, passion and anguish all over again, particularly for the families of the victims of the attacks.  The films' releases have also prompted some to ask the question, "is it too soon" to have films about 9/11/01 released on the big screen?  For the families of lost loved ones, the pain never goes away.  Yet is it "too soon" to show films or release films that address or chronicle the day of horror that swept America? 

It is never too soon.  The time is now. 

Art reflects the state of the world in many instances, and tries to infuse the viewers of such works some valuable insight in the hope of spurring dialogue, debate and discussion. 

This Tuesday, following today's Labor Day holiday in the United States, the film "United 93" will be released on DVD in North America.  The film, which grossed $31.4 million in North America, was critically praised for its harrowing, intensely disturbing look at what may have happened aboard United Airlines Flight 93, which left Newark Airport in New Jersey on its way to San Francisco, California on that fateful morning.  British filmmaker and documentary director Paul Greengrass made the film, which was released in April, with non-professional actors and some of the people who were actually in the middle of the crisis five years ago.  The non-actors added to the film's authenticity, which made the knowledge of their on-screen fates all the more uncomfortable.  There is some dramatic license, but "United 93" never disrespects the families or its victims, neither does it glorify the hijackers who are seen taking over the plane.   Mr. Greengrass consulted all the families of the flight's victims, and Universal Pictures donated the opening weekend's proceeds to September 11 families' charities.  The film has its graphically violent moments where the action on screen cuts deep into the viewers' soul and psyche.  Painful, yes, but as real as Mr. Greengrass makes this film and its final tragic moments, the film is still just that -- a work of fiction. 

Currently in theaters is Oliver Stone's critically-acclaimed "World Trade Center".  The phenomenally heartfelt, well-made drama is based on the true life stories of John McLaughlin and Willy Jimeno and their respective wives, Donna and Allison.  The two men, both New York/New Jersey Port Authority police officers, were trapped under tons of rubble for between 13 and 26 hours after entering the World Trade Center twin towers to rescue hundreds of people trapped following the planes' assault.  Mr. Stone recreates a haunting, elegiac that stirs the emotions of its audience.  Before the Labor Day weekend numbers become final the film (which cost $65 million to make) had grossed about $62 million after just three weeks of release in North America.  Some numbers suggest that the film had been doing particularly well in New York City, the site of the Trade Center.  Such box-office figures underline the fact that some, if not all audiences are ready to take on the traumas of September 11, 2001 headlong, all over again.  Further indications of this come from America's ABC television network, which next week will broadcast a two-part, four-hour docudrama film entitled "The Path to 9/11".  The film, which stars Harvey Keitel, William Sadler and Penny Johnson Jerald among others, will be broadcast in two parts on September 10 and September 11.  David L. Cunningham directs.  And earlier this year in the United States the Arts and Entertainment Cable Television Network aired the made-for-television film "Flight 93", which depicts the drama of United Flight 93, albeit in not as graphic or powerful ways as Paul Greengrass' feature film does.

And on the Internet people have been discussing and debating the events of September 11, 2001 from the very first moments that the awful events occurred.  A widely-distributed film over the Internet entitled "Loose Change", a thought-provoking and at times probing rethinking of the accuracy of the events of the day, has been met with both skepticism and high praise for its own take on whether the events happened the way they have been reported and whether forces much closer to American shores -- the film strongly implies that the United States Government actually engineered the attacks -- were involved. 

The facts are clear: while many Americans are still gravely traumatized by what happened almost five years ago, artists and filmmakers are re-igniting the nation's and the rest of the globe's consciousness about what happened and what responses can be directed in the future.  As in the case of the documentary "Loose Change", people are continuing to ask questions about the man-made horror as well as about natural disasters that have visited the United States.  With the recent (August 29) one-year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina destroying cities like New Orleans and numerous others on the American Gulf Coast, came Spike Lee's four-hour documentary "When The Levees Broke", which is currently showing on American cable television network HBO.  The documentary points out that thousands and thousands were killed (in excess of 4,000), with thousands more missing and presumably dead.  Mr. Lee, who earlier this year directed the brilliant "Inside Man", raises questions about whether the United States government could have done more, as well as interviews with some New Orleans residents who strongly suspect that the government was behind the neglect and the cause of the deaths of many (recent revelations suggested that the U.S. government had advance warning of the severity of the storm at least two or three days before it struck land.)

Revisiting the horrors of September 11, 2001 and the aftermath of August 29, 2005 are more necessary than ever for healing sake.  Films, commentaries and positive actions are the vehicles through which moving forward, remembering and helping people patch their lives back together again, can be achieved, among other ways. 

More than ever, the time to remember is now.


Omar P.L. Moore
The Popcorn Reel