Renowned filmmaker Spike Lee made a poignant choice to commemorate September 11th during his visit to the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF). Lee was invited to the festival and was fully aware that his appearance would coincide with the anniversary of the tragic events of September 11th, 2001. In tribute to the day, he decided to screen an episode from his 2021 HBO docuseries, “NYC Epicenters 9/11 to 2021 ½,” at the Glenn Gould Theatre. The episode delves into the parallels and differences between the September 11th attacks and the COVID-19 crisis in New York City two decades later.
The episode of “NYC Epicenters” opens with a Port Authority video chronicling the construction of the World Trade Center towers in the late 1960s, noting that 60 people lost their lives during the building’s construction. It then features a series of interviews with diverse individuals, including a Port Authority office manager who survived the 9/11 attacks, first responders, and actress Rosie Perez, who shares her brother’s experiences during the crisis.
One striking element highlighted in the episode is the beautiful weather on the morning of September 11, 2001, with sunny skies and temperatures of 80 degrees. CNN Chief Legal Analyst Laura Coates recounts a chilling story about her sister, a flight attendant who was originally scheduled to be on American Airlines Flight 11, the plane hijacked by al-Qaeda terrorists and crashed into the North Tower of the World Trade Center. Coates persuaded her sister to go on a road trip at the last minute, ultimately saving her life. Coates believes it was destiny that spared her sister.
During the episode, Spike Lee also shares his own experience of September 11th, revealing that he was in Los Angeles that day, meeting with Arnold Schwarzenegger to pitch a Joe Louis boxing film they co-wrote. Lee and Schwarzenegger were greatly distracted by the unfolding news on television.
Reflecting on the tragedy, Lee mentioned in a Q&A session that he felt compelled to return home to be with his family, which took him about three days. The primary goal of the docuseries was to give voice to average New Yorkers who witnessed the events of September 11th.
In a conversation with TIFF CEO Cameron Bailey about the making of the docuseries, Lee discussed his approach to documentary filmmaking versus feature films, emphasizing that both are forms of storytelling.
Spike Lee was honored with the Ebert Director Award at the TIFF Tribute Awards, and he is set to moderate a discussion during the Talking Heads reunion event at the festival following the screening of A24’s “Stop Making Sense”.
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Derek Chan – Editor