When Spike Lee was asked by TIFF to head to the festival, he was fully aware on what date he’d be there — that being Sept. 11.
So he did the right thing.
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“It didn’t take me long to think about what I wanted to show,” said the Oscar-winning BlacKkKlansman filmmaker.
And in a proper reflection on the day when New York City’s World Trade Center towers were destroyed in a terrorist attack, Lee decided to show off to the crowd here at the Glenn Gould Theatre an episode of his 2021 HBO docuseries, NYC Epicenters 9/11 to 2021 ½, which dives into the similarities and differences between Sept. 11 and the Covid crisis in New York City two decades later.
The episode begins with a Port Authority video about the construction of the edifice in the late 1960s and a placard shortly thereafter reading that 60 people died during the building of the 1,360-plus-foot towers. What follows is a string of interviews with myriad folks, from a Port Authority office manager who was in the building and survived to first responders to Rosie Perez and how her brother managed the crisis that day.
Several interviews Lee conducted begin with how the weather was beautiful — sunny, clear skies and 80 degrees before the great tragedy struck the city. CNN Chief Legal Analyst Laura Coates in the episode tells the story of how her sister, a flight attendant at the time, was originally expected to be aboard the Boston-to-L.A. plane — American Airlines Flight 11 — which was hijacked by al-Qaeda terrorists and crashed into the North Tower of the World Trade Center. However, Coates convinced her at the last minute to go on a road trip. Coates says she believes it was “destiny” that her sister is still alive.
In the episode Lee reveals that he was in Los Angeles on Sept. 11, 2001, meeting up with Arnold Schwarzenegger, pitching the star to appear in a Joe Louis boxing picture that the Do the Right Thing filmmaker co-penned with Budd Schulberg. Lee and Schwarzenegger still met that day but were greatly distracted by the news on the television.
Afterward, in a short audience Q&A, Lee said that after the tragedy, “I had to get home, had to get back to my family,” which took him about three days.
“The goal, we know we accomplished, was to have average New Yorkers who were witnesses to what happened,” Lee told TIFF CEO Cameron Bailey in a sit-down chat about the making of the docuseries.
Asked what his approach is when it comes to making a documentary versus a feature film, Lee simply responded, “It’s all storytelling.”
Lee was honored with the Ebert Director Award on Sunday night at the TIFF Tribute Awards. We hear he’s set to moderate the Talking Heads reunion discussion tonight here at the festival after the screening of A24’s Stop Making Sense.
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