The 21st century version of the all-American question "where were you when JFK was assassinated?" is "what were you doing when the planes hit the World Trade Center?"
Some of us watched the towers disintegrate before our very eyes, our landscape changed forever, and it's a vision, a feeling we will carry inside our hearts for as long as we live. The smell throughout downtown Manhattan, the lines of demarcation -- complete with checkpoints -- between the northern and southern parts of the city but also the newfound sense of camaraderie we bestowed upon each other to merely get from day to day, is also what I remember from those days.
Yet more and more in American history, we find ourselves examining tragedies like this one which could be avoided. The school shootings, in retrospect, all seem so avoidable. The destruction of Iraq -- and subsequently the Arab world imploding because of it -- appear so unnecessary and driven by greed. Even 9/11 was known beforehand. We all saw that knowledge on our President's face that day, in that classroom. He knew or at least, he imagined it could happen. And yet, we allowed it to continue on its dangerous path, leading to a national tragedy that changed us forever. NYC was never the same after that, and in the wake of September 11th, shady wheelings and dealings happened that changed the economic and human landscape of our beloved city.
In his 2006 book 'The Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11', journalist Lawrence Wright explored the possibility of thwarting this tragedy, in retrospect, and found within the Washington intelligence community a lot of egos and infighting. People getting in the way of their duties.
In the Hulu series premiering its first three episodes on February 28th -- and enjoying a sneak peak at this year's Berlinale -- executive producers Dan Futterman, Alex Gibney, and Wright examine all the events leading up to 9/11 including Monica's semen-stained dress coverage, the bombings of US embassies in East Africa and all the other missed opportunities to stop evil from entering our lives. Cinematically, 'The Looming Tower' works perfectly and I've never disliked personal favorite Peter Sarsgaard or adored Tahar Rahim more than in their respective roles as Martin Schmidt and Ali Soufan.
As always, whatever filmmaker Alex Gibney touches turns to gold -- he seems to possess that rare combination of discovering good human stories which also make sense on a geopolitical level and appeal on the screen -- and 'The Looming Tower', also starring Jeff Daniels and some of the brightest stars from the Middle East like Ali Suliman ('Paradise Now', 'The Attack'), Tawfeek Barhom ('A Borrowed Identity') and Samer Bisharat ('Omar'), is no different. A really great watch, which lures you in and hooks you to your screen from the very first shot.
I'll admit, I have a short attention span, which is why TV now works so well... I imagine we all do a bit.
Usually, in the first hour of a film I'll check out the time at least once. But while watching Lav Diaz' 'Season of the Devil', his four and a half hour A capella opera in black and white about Martial Law in the Philippines in the late 1970s, I didn't check my phone once, until three and a half hours into it. Then, I could not believe that Diaz' poetic, sing-song-y, clear and strange moviemaking had kept me enthralled for that long.
Until now, I have been afraid of Diaz and his films. My esteemed colleagues, all much more serious critics than I could ever aspire to be, have contrasting opinions. The length of Diaz' work is usually a turn off, with a film in competition two years ago here at Berlinale which latest nine hours. I repeat, NINE hours. No it's not a typo. Yet most cinema buffs have always found his work deeply inspiring and he garners awards like he makes films -- a lot!
Now I can safely say I am a Lav Diaz virgin no more, hurray! I sat through 'Season of the Devil' and enjoyed myself, found his film at once poignant and cool, his cinematography breathtaking and his ideas so profoundly quirky that the experience proved life changing for me.
When you can walk out of a film knowing it has changed your life, that's when you know cinema has offered you its very best -- the ability to make of us better human beings.