Eleven acclaimed filmmakers, from eleven different countries and cultures, were invited to make short films of 11 minutes, 9 seconds and 1 frame in length, reflecting their personal responses to the terrorist attacks of September 11 2001. No restrictions were imposed on content or approach.
Review by Jake Wilson:
There’s always something potentially nauseating about turning atrocities into art, and this anthology film risks extreme bad taste in making the September 11 attacks the basis for games with form (there are eleven participants, each section runs for eleven minutes, and so on). Understandably, the contributors mainly opt for an oblique approach to real-life trauma; only Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu finds an appropriately extreme way of representing the black hole of “ground zero” at the World Trade Centre. Some viewers might be discomfited by the prevailing leftist politics, since the contributors are only marginally interested in mourning the victims of the attacks. Instead, most of them focus on challenging the received idea of September 11 as an isolated, singular event, rather than a chapter in an ongoing global history of misery and slaughter. While this is a crucial political and moral point, it should also go without saying that the attacks were not less evil because other evils have occurred elsewhere; too often, the contributors all but dismiss the horror at hand as a conceptual Macguffin, an excuse to talk about something else. Such qualms aside,
11’09’01 is well worth seeing as a sampler of new work by a distinguished line-up of contemporary directors: all the shorts here are watchable, and some are first-rate. Apart from Inarritu’s, the most striking include Amos Gitai’s frantic single-take orchestration of the aftermath of a suicide bombing; Idrissa Ouedraogo’s colorful and painful farce in which a gang of Burkino Faso boys attempt to capture Osama bin Laden; and Ken Loach’s powerful agitprop essay on an earlier September 11 atrocity, the killing of Salvador Allende. Best of all is the opening offering from Samira Mahkmalbaf, once again displaying this gifted young filmmaker’s instinctive wit, poise, and ability to think in images. As children in an Iranian classroom ponder news of the attacks, their questions take us at once to the heart of the matter. It's said that the people in the twin towers were killed by God, but why should God kill people? So he can make new ones? Who can say?
Review by Louise Keller:
Thought provoking, questioning, reflective, searching, 11’09’01 is a stimulating and sobering reflection of the horrific events that shocked the world on September 11. This heart-felt documentary with views and varying flavours from 11 directors of 11 different origins and 11 different cultures, is a pot-pouri of emotional responses, personal statements and interpretations. The universal horror we all felt, and the way that this single event has forged a bond between nations and individuals is moulded in a moving collection of works by filmmakers who have something to say. We are fascinated, moved to tears, shocked, perplexed and even amused. 11’09’01 is a cinematographic tapestry where the essence of different cultures is woven together with the thread of humanity. The second hand of a giant clock moves second by second to reveal the world’s many time zones, all of which share the impact of the horror. From Iran to France, Egypt, Bosnia, West Africa, England, Mexico, Israel, India, America to Japan, we are exposed to different stories, different interpretations. In Iran, we meet young children whose teacher is trying to explain the tragedy and asks them to share a minute’s silence; in Bosnia we get to understand women who demonstrate every month since the events in Srebrnica; in West Africa we join a young boy who leaves school to earn money to buy medicines for his ill mother. When the boy sees a man who looks like Osama Bin Laden, he quickly calculates what his cut of the reward will be. There’s a striking short film from Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, whose concept that you can only arrive to the light after a dark and painful process of confronting reality. This film comprises mostly of sounds – from the chanting collective prayer by the Chamulas Indians integrated with sirens and the sounds of chaos. The screen is dark with only intermittent flashes of disturbing images. Extraordinarily disturbing and upsetting, the compounding harshness of sound with no images and then images with no sound leaves us devastated. Some of the short films work better than other, but without doubt, my favourite is that of French director Claude LeLouch, whose theme of silence is the most poignant, evoking the greatest emotional response. Using the notion of 11 minutes of silence to pay homage to those who died, LeLouch’s narrative involves a deaf mute female photographer who lives in a world of silence. Her relationship is on the rocks and it will only take a miracle for them to remain together. We witness the miracle, and it is a wonderful moment. The sequence of events – played in silence – moves us to tears. Whether you can relate to each segment is ultimately up to you, but 11’09’01 is an extraordinary piece of filmmaking, which should be seen by everyone.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
The French consider themselves the inventors and owners of cinema – and they often infuse cinema with ideas that propel or challenge and agitate the artform. 11’09’01 is an idea which plays better as a concept than as film, but it is to the credit of the French that they had the idea at all. Like the first flower of a radical or excessively romantic undergraduate idea, 11’09’01 is at first glance a rich and valid vehicle. Based on the concept of ‘variations on a theme’ where the theme is a major historic event, in this case the September 11 2001 terrorist attack on New York) the grandeur of the idea is also its failing. By leaving the brief open to the filmmakers to approach the subject matter from any angle, and encouraging a personal, intimate response, the series of films becomes almost a list of polemic exercises, rather than truly emotional cinema. The few filmmakers who actually confront the event itself cannot reach the depth of connections we have already made on the mind-battering news coverage. This leaves everyone in a quandary, but the ones that understand this make the most impact, like Claude Lelouch, whose intuitive sense of cinema (and lifetime experience) underpins a work of drama that is so in tune with the subject matter and so complete as an idea that it reaches us as a fresh, intact, new point of view of the event. And only Idrissa Ouedrago dares inject humour into his work, and it succeeds because he’s so brutally honest. He and Lelouch share one crucial aspect of how they approach this subject: neither takes a posture or works an agenda. Their simple humanity invokes the most sincere and positive response. In truth, we are still too close to this atrocity to make any meaningful artistic/creative responses to it: but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be grappling with it.
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Idrissa Ouedrago (Burkino Faso)
Claude Lelouch (France)
Danis Tanovic (Bosnia Herzegovina)
Sean Penn (USA)
PRODUCER: Alain Brigand (creative; based on his original idea)
DIRECTOR: Ken Loach, Claude Lelouch, Sean Penn, Danis Tanovic, Mira Nair, Shohei Imamura, Samira Makhmalbaf, Amos Gitai, Youssef Chahine, Alejandro Gonzales Inarritu, Idrissa Oudrago
PRODUCTION DESIGN: various
RUNNING TIME: 130 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Dendy
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: Melbourne: November 21, 2002; Sydney: November 28; Brisbane: December 5; Perth: March 2003
VIDEO DISTRIBUTOR: Magna Pacific
VIDEO RELEASE: (rental) August 13, 2003 (retail): December 10, 2003