a missed opportunity

vincent valdmanis

Full disclosure before I continue: I'm an American who was present in NYC for the big day. I'm also a committed leftist - in the States they ludicrously call me a 'Commie'. Also, mainstream American media predictably criticized September 11 for being 'anti- American.' Let me make clear that this is not at all my criticism.

September 11 suffered from one main problem: dwelling on the atrocities committed by the US. The implication is September 11 was a response by enraged victims of American foreign policy, such as angry Chileans. I happen to disagree with this analysis (I also disagree with Bush's 'freedom-hating terrorists' line), but if you want to make the argument, do it intelligently. But we did not get a coherent case. We got a film wallowing in America's pain, a guilty pleasure for America's critics. Come on, we critics of America can do better!

September 11 was a response to the catastrophic events in New York City that shook the world on September 11, 2001. Producer Alaiin Brigand invited 11 renowned international directors to look towards their own cultures, their own memories, their own stories and their own language, and create a film lasting eleven minutes, nine seconds and one frame - 11'09"01 - around September 11 and its consequences.

Critiques of Washington's evildoing are obviously important and legitimate (I thought Ken Loach did a superb job reviewing 'Chile's September 11'.) But in the context of this film, such critiques seem misplaced. Ok, you're saying America deserved it. (By the way, does anyone deserve it? The sweet Scandinavians? The Chinese? India? France? Pakistan? Brazil? More on this below.) Such an argument sounds like one based in vengeance, so it's surprising to see it coming from the left, but let's hear it. I'm game. Make it smart and compelling. The film didn't.

The film's other message was "America, suffering also happens in the rest of the world." An obvious but important point more Americans should study. If we're going to review American foreign policy, which someone in addition to Michael Moore needs to hurry up and do, then let's do it. There's a huge need. But if we're going to talk about September 11 (which is what the film's title implies), then let's talk about September 11. Of course the two subjects are interrelated. Yet the film doesn't bring us closer to understanding the event, much less its untold geopolitical, social, economic, and cultural ripple effects.

Alejandro González Iñárritu's bizarre clip of World Trade Centre workers committing suicide by jumping to their death underscored the film's unfocused, indulgent nature. So disappointing, considering the brilliance of his film "Amores Perros". Seeing his name in the program I was anticipating something on Mexico, which, forever consigned to America's shadow, badly deserves attention. How have Mexicans been affected by this massive geopolitical event to their north? (Right off the top of my head, tighter border security means illegal immigrants, having sacrificed nearly everything in the attempt, face impossible odds getting across the border. We're talking hundreds of thousands of people's lives. There's a lot to tell.) I liked the bitchy newswoman in the Israeli film, but I wanted to be challenged more than simply hearing "you Americans think you've got it bad? It happens to us every day." This is cheap. (And alarming, considering one of Israel's pre-eminent leftist filmmakers seems here to echo Sharon's appropriation of Bush's rhetoric to justify his actions against Palestinians. Do you see the intellectual inconsistencies... this is what I'm coming to.) In France, September 11 was a catalyst for tensions, now being played out with this ridiculous headscarf controversy, between its alienated Muslim minority and its mainstream. In India, Hindutva has used September 11 to advance its platform. Let's hear about it.

The point is that taking satisfaction in America getting its comeuppance is an intellectually and morally weak enterprise that doesn't make for a particularly stimulating 'art house' film. (While I'm at it, the sentimental musical interlude between each clip was clumsy and awful.) It's disappointing to see the left quietly cheer "yess!" under its breath. It's disappointing to see the left willingly lose the moral high ground to the right. It's disappointing to see the left, promoter of human rights, weakening itself with self-inflicted contradictions: quietly satisfied at the attacks in NYC (the least 'American' and most international of all cities in the US), but desperate to discuss the horrific deeds of America. Eager to detail the horrors of American foreign policy, but unable to acknowledge the trauma of the event and suggest genuine steps in response. In the end, these faults lead to intellectual weakness and a vacuum that the right steps in to occupy. Why can we on the left not condemn both the political hijacking of Islam and American foreign policy? Why is it Samira Makhmalbaf could not bring herself even to mention the swampy history of the CIA and Iran's Ayatollahs? Why must the left wilt into apologist mode to denounce the horrors of the hegemony (a pleasure I admit I indulge in constantly)? Don't we have the skills to make less crude critiques (and don't we mock he right for its black/white worldview?) Only Shohei Imamura's 'Holy War' succeeded in strongly condemning all forms of violence and warned of the dark consequences of ideological war making. The others equivocated.

I did like the film from Burkina Faso, and despite my criticisms, the film from Iran. As I said, I also appreciated the message of the Japanese film.

But sadly, September 11 was intellectually inconsistent and a missed opportunity to present a rigorous, compelling, provocative response from the left to this crazy event.

¦ Home  ¦ Mail ¦