Hidden Gems: 11’09”01
By Walid Habboub
November 30, 2004
A year after the attacks on the World Trade Center in New York, 11’09”01 debuted at the Toronto International Film festival. A collection of eleven 11-minute short films by directors of different nationalities, the film was put together by a group of French filmmakers in order to capture the global reaction to the terrorist attacks that happened on September 11th in New York. The film can be considered a sincere and brutally honest view of how the world viewed the attacks and puts the events in a different - and likely more accurate - context.
The producers of the film commissioned 11 directors from 11 different countries with 11 different perspectives on the attacks. The directors ranged from America’s Sean Penn, Israel’s Amos Gitai, Egypt’s Youssef Chahine and Briton Ken Loach whose contribution, along with Mexico’s Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu stand out as the powerhouses among the 11 shorts. The films range from the minimalist to the surreal, the symbolic to the all too realistic, but most somehow manage to add a new layer to a tragedy that inspires more questions than answers.
On their own, not all the shorts are effective. Japanese director Shohei Imamura’s screen time, presented here as the final film in the set, is best likened to a David Lynch film if Lynch was senile, incoherent and on acid. Its placement as the concluding film unfortunately takes away from the overall impact. Gitai’s contribution, while a product of excellent film-making, does very little to address the 9/11 attacks. What it does is convey an indifference to the tragic events of 9/11 by showing other tragic events, though on a smaller scale that happen in Israel. Just as cynical is Chahine’s contribution, which is just as self-fulfilling as Gitai’s is indifferent. Chahine’s piece was subject to much controversy, but that is to be expected whenever someone puts together a work of pure honesty containing a blunt message. Where Chahine fails is not perhaps in the content but in the delivery.
Having said that, the positives of the documentary far outweigh the negatives. Inarritu’s 11 minutes serve as a stark contrast to the sensationalist media rampant throughout North America over the past 20 years. His simple approach to covering the actual attacks is heartbreakingly stark and can easily be counted as the most effective portrayal of those fateful 90 minutes in New York City. Ken Loach’s story features a Chilean man writing an open letter explaining the impact America had on his country and his citizens. Loach turns the camera at Americans and sort of puts the ball in the United States' court. It is a reflective yet cautionary 11 minutes that warns that the right questions must be asked before the wrong answers are made.
The most optimistic of the films is that of Sean Penn, whose metaphorical story shows a sheltered and delusional America whose eyes are opened to the world as it is. Three years after the tragedy, Penn’s optimism seems foolhardy and misplaced as his vision is more of an idealistic reflection than a realistic representation. Ultimately, no single work in the group is meant to stand on its own. It is when all are combined that the viewer comes away with the complexities of the time of the attacks. Nothing is ever black or white and 11’09”01 shows that the world is at least 11 shades of gray.