Spike Lee Remembers 9/11 at the Toronto Film Festival: “The World Has Changed Since That Day”

Proud New Yorker Spike Lee took time to address the 22nd anniversary of Sept. 11 during a keynote talk at the Toronto Film Festival on Monday.

Specifically, Lee recalled he was in Los Angeles on that Tuesday in 2001 and was scrambling to get back to his hometown in crisis to be with his family.

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“The world has changed since that day,” Lee said of 9/11 on Monday during a Visionaries session presented by The Hollywood Reporter.

Lee began his keynote with a 30-minute episode of NYC Epicenters 9/11 -> 2021 1/2, his 2021 four-part documentary for HBO that filters the COVID-19 pandemic, the racial reckoning of the summer of 2020, the Jan. 6 insurrection and the tragedy of 9/11 through the director’s New York city perspective.

“There’s some rough things you’ll see. But as a filmmaker, I’ve never been one to hide shit. It’s not simulated computer stuff. This is real, what happened to, in my opinion — don’t get mad — the greatest city in the world,” Lee said in introducing the episode.

The solemn screening was timed for the 22nd anniversary of the deadly terrorist attacks on New York City and Washington, D.C., which came midway through the Toronto Film Festival that year. After the episode ended, Lee returned to the stage for a standing ovation and rapturous applause from industry conference delegates at TIFF.

Lee recalled being in L.A. to pitch a movie project and then having to get back to New York via train as no planes were flying.

There weren’t train tickets either, until one suddenly appeared. “The pullman porters, they gave me a bunk. And you can’t go from L.A. to New York, you have to go through Chicago. They had called ahead so I could have a place to sleep. I got back to New York that Friday,” Lee remembered.

On Sunday night, Lee received the Ebert Director Award at the TIFF Tribute Awards in Toronto.

Lee’s prolific run of films he has both written and directed began with 1983’s Joe’s Bed-Stuy Barbershop: We Cut Heads, and Lee has penned screenplays for films he directed including She’s Gotta Have It, Do the Right Thing, School Daze, Malcolm X, Red Hook Summer, Chi-RaqBlacKkKlansman and Da 5 Bloods. He has been nominated for five Oscars and in 2019 won best adapted screenplay alongside Charlie Wachtel, David Rabinowitz and Kevin Willmott for BlacKkKlansman.

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