The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Mira’s 9/11 courts Venice trouble

Mumbai, Sept. 4: Mira Nair looks set to contribute her bit to the next burgeoning controversy at the Venice film festival.

The idea scared American distributors, none of whom will touch it. But now 11’09’’01, a French-backed compilation of 11 short films — including one by Nair — on the September 11 terror attacks, has aroused strong passions in Venice for suggesting America got what it deserved.

The film — which aims to document different views of the tragedy from different parts of the world and which are not tailor-made for the American sensibility — also has Sean Penn, Ken Loach and Oscar-winning Bosnian director Denis Tanovic contributing their takes on the disaster.

It will premiere on Friday at Venice, but its content has already come under severe attack.

“It’s garbage,” screams the outraged Italian daily Il Foglio. “The French financiers recruit 11 well-known and some unknown directors... They (then) explain to us how the US deserved what happened.”

US trade magazine Variety has slammed the film as “stridently anti-American” in tone.

In 11’09”01 — so-called also because each short film runs to 11 minutes and nine seconds — Nair’s film is about a Pakistani American woman whose son dies while trying to help others escape from the World Trade Center. But that does not stop the American authorities from questioning his “involvement” because of his religion.

“It’s about a woman who is a Pakistani American... been there for 24 years. Her oldest son doesn’t come home on September 11. He’s a trained ambulance worker and a police cadet. Five days later the neighbours and press begins to question whether he’s missing or only hiding, whether he’s a terrorist. It was all over the newspapers. We show how she copes with it,” says Nair in a recent interview.

“They went to Mecca, and when they came back the neighbours were turning against her. Finally, through DNA testing, (their son’s) remains were found — he had gone there to help.

“Overnight the press changed and he was declared a hero, an American hero. His mother took to the microphone and said: ‘If my son were called Jesus or David I would not be telling this story’.”

The chief target of the critics, however, is the film by Egyptian director Youssef Chahine. It features the “ghost” of a US marine, killed in Lebanon, taking part in a conversation that suggests that Palestinian suicide bombers believe their actions to be justified.

Ken Loach’s film is about another event that took place on another September 11, in 1973. It was the coup by General Augusto Pinochet in Chile against President Salvador Allende, which was endorsed by then head of National Security Council Henry Kissinger and US President Richard Nixon.

After Venice, 11’09”01 will be shown at the Toronto International Film Festival to mark the attacks on the US exactly one year ago.

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