After the terrorist attack of 11/09/01 Alain Brigand decided to commission an international film that would interpret the momentous event from 11 different angles. Simple rules were set from the start: the budget would be limited to $400,000 per film with a set running time of exactly 11 minutes and 9 seconds. The chosen directors, a solid mix of veteran directors (Chahine, Loach and Lelouch) and relative new-comers (Iñárritu and Tanovic), hailed from 11 different countries and all were barred from talking about the film to one another.
The end result has managed to garner an equal amount of acclaim and criticism. The most potentially controversial clearly stand out - Chahine's effort is amazing, mixing with equal measure clumsy narrative methods with pretentious structure - politically, it's not likely to go down too well with some given that he expresses his sadness regarding the event but goes on to point out the thousands of Arab lives that have been claimed by the US' support of Israel - an exercise in subtlety, this certainly is not...
Loach's film by contrast is quite restrained especially given the director's tendency to let politics get in the way of a good film - here he chooses to talk about another 11th September - one when a CIA backed coup installed Pinochet's dictatorship of terror in Chile. Some have claimed he was showing no respect for the dead in NY which seems like a rather bizarre point to make given that Loach is only looking at why some people may not see the US as the upholders of democracy and freedom.
Bar Mira Nair who tells us the true story of an American Arab who's sought by the CIA in the aftermath of 11/09/01, the rest of the films remain relatively uncritical of the US, maybe feeling this is neither the place nor the time to do that. Claude Lelouch and Sean Penn both focused on the lives of neighbours of the twin towers - the former looking at a couple whose relationship is collapsing and the latter at a widowed man (Ernest Borghine best known for his role in Airwolf!) who spends the day talking to his deceased wife. Ouedraogo's effort gives the entire proceedings a slightly lighter tone with what is almost a comedy with some school kids trying to capture a Bin Laden doppelgänger in order to pay for their mother's medical bills. Strangely, the most sympathetic film is probably the Iranian entry by Samira Makhmalbaf where a school teacher tries to make her class comprehend the horror of what happened in NY though the children are unable to imagine anything beyond their village. Tanovic also voices deep sympathy in his film drawing a parralel between those who lost loved ones in the wars that tore the Balkans apart and NY...
Amos Gitai gives a perfectly choreographed film in one single take which follows a journalist trying to report on a bombing attack in Israel but can't understand why she's not on live TV. Even more experimental is Iñárritu's entry which uses audio recordings of phone calls and a soundtrack of what seems like sacred Native American chants - images fill the screen fleetingly until the final few seconds when we are asked whether God's light blinds us or enlightens us. Ending the 11'09"01, Imamura takes us back more than half a century to a Japanese soldier so disturbed by the horrors of the war, he's taken to live the rest of his life as a snake. Though completely different from the rest of the films, Imamura leaves us with the welcome reminder that there is nothing holy about war.
Given the nature of the film, you can hardly blame it for being patchy but, bar Chahine's misfiring, all the films are well worth viewing just for their distinctive interpretation of the events. Given the likelihood of a project like this falling flat on its' face, it's amazing to see how well it does work as a whole and deserves a much wider audience than what it has received so far. As things stand, the film currently has not received a release stateside - a great shame given that this not an exercise in anti-Americanism but a genuine artistic attempt to analyse what happened on that day.