Saturday, September 10, 2011

Remembering 9/11/01

Each of us has a memory of where we were, of how we found out, of what happened next and how we spent the day. This evening, my beloved and I sat on my mother's darkened balcony and remembered our own experiences of it. The day was universal and also personal: when I first encountered the small cluster of people standing around a stock market monitor watching something near the subway entrance at Union Station, I had no idea that my own cousin's partner was in fact en route that very moment to a meeting in the South Tower, having flown to New York that morning from Chicago. I did not yet know anything about anyone, but as I drew into the group and as my eyes settled on the screen and I took in what I was looking at, an entire building crumbled and collapsed before my eyes. The group of well-heeled businessmen and women cried out in horror.

Eventually, I tore myself away and made my way to Bloor Street and the Varsity cinemas, still in a daze but vaguely continuing in the day because I wanted to stay near people. I entered a sea of distressed Industry reps all on phones, clustered again, this time around a series of candy counter monitors normally used to show movie trailers and now channeling a live feed of the unfolding nightmare. People wept, talked, tried desperately to get a hold of loved ones. I spent the next hour standing with the late Canadian actress Jackie Burroughs, whom I had once worked with but did not know well, as we shared tears and astonishment and tried to understand what was happening. The word came slowly that TIFF was shutting down for at least 24 hours out of respect to the many Americans present. During that period they would offer resources, support and assistance to as many of those guests affected as they could: I cannot imagine a more appropriate or thorough response made so spontaneously. My mind wandered to all kinds of people I knew and didn't know affected by the events. My cousin lived in New York and I tried hard to reach her all day. Word eventually came that she was fine, but then the story of my other cousin's partner slowly emerged. She had spent much of the day in a rented car trying to figure out what to do next, finally ending up at the family cottage in Connecticut where the family next door knew already they had lost a loved one to the events. Her story was repeated by the many thousands whose paths and lives were irrevocably changed.

Just the day before, I had attended a press conference for Richard Linklater's
Waking Life. Staying behind to interview someone, I overheard a conversation between Linklater and a colleague. As they parted, one of them said to the other, "see you tomorrow in the Apple". I wondered where they were now.

This film festival often finds itself at a strange crossroads of political and cultural events. TIFF was minimally impacted by the tragedies of that day, but the artists who were present and those who weren't would eventually mine these realities in the works that would be showcased in the coming decade. From the omnibus
11'9"01 collection that appeared a year or two later to this year's The Love We Make by filmmakers Bradley Kaplan and Alfred Maysles, TIFF has helped to relate how the world lived out the realities of that day and the greater and more lasting impact it has had on communities even beyond the boundaries of New York, Washington and northeastern Pennsylvania. I will be remembering those whose lives were lost, and sending out a prayer that today's artists will continue to reflect on these and other vividly remembered acts and moments of horror, so that we might continue to learn, and continue to strive for a world in peace.

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