Turning 9/11 into entertainment

By Natalie Sit

Important events usually become fictionalized and then filmed. Events become something to amuse.

Already, a film about fallen firefighters was shown at the Toronto Film Festival. Conceivably, a movie about the attack on the World Trade Center could be filmed soon. Will it cast a rosy glow on the events or sanitize them?

Right after

Hollywood, like everyone else, was affected by September 11. Movies like Collateral Damage, where Arnold Schwarzenegger hunts down the terrorists that killed his wife and child, were delayed. Other movies, like Serendipity, were re-edited to not show the twin towers. Even the Canadian independent film waydowntown was held back in the U.S. because some felt its subject–office workers in tall buildings–would be too jarring in a post-September 11 world. Movies scheduled for TV, such as the disaster movie Independence Day and the X-Files, which showed an office building explode, were withdrawn. It seemed everything was in flux.

Daytime and nighttime shows shutdown, films were pulled–a responsible reaction. However Bart Beaty, Associate Professor for Communication and Culture, feels that Hollywood overreacted in some cases.

"One of the things that they did was to pull from production or release any films that even had the words ‘New York’ in the title–like Sidewalks of New York and Gangs of New York. That was a little much."

The year after

In the year following the attack, Collateral Damage was released and it wasn’t in bad taste to say "New York" in movies. Beaty thinks September 11 will not produce any long-term changes in the movie industry despite the fact the events have a long-term impact on politics, culture and the media.

"We’re still getting the same material that we used to get, with very few differences," says Beaty. "The new television schedule is skewing towards comfort and family viewing, which is something of a change, but most of the older material that was successful has kept doing exactly what it did before."

Beaty also believes there will be no change in Canadian films due to the fact Canada will not produce a September 11 film–in fact, "there are very few Canadian action films." But because of Canada’s close ties to the United States and the saturation of Canadian tv viewing by American programming, Canadians will probably be interested in such a film.

A 9/11 Film

The question: when will Hollywood release a movie about September 11? is no longer valid. Originally a play, the film The Guys premiered September 11 at the Toronto Film Festival. The movie is about a journalist helping a fire captain write eulogies for eight firemen who died in the World Trade Center.

The next logical question is: will a movie ever directly deal with events in New York, Washington D.C. or Pennsylvania?

"I’m sure that there will be, but it will most likely focus on rescue efforts," says Beaty. "There’s no way they would focus on the people inside the towers as that would be too harrowing and has no positive side at all. I’m certain that a film will be made about the plane that crashed in Pennsylvania due to the efforts of the passengers fighting back, but that will probably take a few years."

The plane crash in Pennsylvania differentiates itself from Washington D.C. and New York because there were identifiable individuals who possibly prevented Flight 93 from crashing into the Capitol buildings. People like Todd Beamer provide a face to those whom fought against the terrorists. And if a movie were produced about Flight 93, the characterizations would have to be treated very carefully.

"I would like to see a movie present flaws about a person like Todd Beamer, but to get the rights you’d have to deal with his widow, and she’s not likely to approve a script that goes that way. I think it’s most likely, in that case, that they’ll simply fictionalize a person for the lead in a film about the events."

Mainstream movies tend to san-itize many subjects, A Beautiful Mind for example, glossed over mathematician John Nash’s bisexuality and his tendency for public nudity. So it’s not a leap of logic to assume that mainstream movies would gloss over the events of September 11. Beaty finds it difficult to believe that Hollywood could not present an "Up with America" themed film because people like happy endings so much. Instead, it could be up to documentaries and independent films to fill in that gap–if indy filmmakers could find the money.

"I think that you might get an edgy film about this, but [September 11] would be more peripheral. Certainly, most independent filmmakers can’t mobilize the budget to make a film that’s really about 9–11, but they could make films that sort of touch on it peripherally."

No effect?

In the end, a September 11 film would be an isolated movie, according to Beaty. It wouldn’t fundamentally change the way films are made now–and five or ten years in the future.

"It will affect things like the skyline, but in terms of writers and directors thinking through storylines I think that they will get back to business as usual fairly quickly," says Beaty. "With the passage of time the attack will seem more like we remember the Gulf War now; an important moment in world history, but not one that will restructure how films are made."

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