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‘Extremely Loud’ director calls for making more 9/11 films

BERLIN: The director of Oscar-nominated 9/11 drama “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close,” Stephen Daldry, told the Berlin film festival he was stunned by the scarcity of movies about the attacks.The 50-year-old British filmmaker said a decade on, cinema still had little to say about the suicide hijackings in New York and Washington in which some 3,000 people were killed or the ensuing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

“It sort of amazes me really that more films aren’t made about 9/11,” he told reporters after a screening of his film at the Berlinale. “My personal opinion is that there are millions of stories that should be told, personal stories and I don’t just mean the stories in New York, I mean stories from around the world.”

After Hollywood disaster fare such as Oliver Stone’s “World Trade Center” and Paul Greengrass’s “Flight 93,” “Extremely Close” is less about the attacks themselves than the shock and sorrow left in their wake.

Based on the best-seller by Jonathan Safran Foer, the film, which has been nominated for an Academy Award as best picture, tells the story of Oskar, whose father is trapped in the World Trade Center that September morning.

When the boy finds a key left by his late father, played by Tom Hanks, he goes on a search of New York’s five boroughs trying to find the matching lock.

The odyssey brings him closer to his widowed mother (Sandra Bullock) and a mysterious stranger, played by Max von Sydow, who has been nominated for a best supporting actor Oscar.

Daldry was asked whether the film’s focus on America’s ongoing grief did not lose sight of the suffering felt by families where the country has since waged war.

“This particular story is focused on one family and the consequences on one family but do I think there should be films about the consequences of what happened in Iraq or what continues to happen in Afghanistan? Yes, I do think that is true.” he said. “I think it’s important those stories are told.”

Daldry said the pain of Sept. 11 remained raw in New York, where he has a home and where the film’s images of Hanks’ body hurtling from the North Tower have come in for sharp criticism.

“There’s lots of issues around 9/11 that we were very aware of and I suppose that’s also because of the reaction and the response to Jonathan’s book,” he said. “We were very aware that there would be a certain amount of controversy about what we would and wouldn’t show. We tried to keep a number of family groups very close to us in the preparation for the film.

“In the end you had to trust your instincts about what you think is appropriate,” he added.

Von Sydow, 82, said he brought his own vivid memories of 9/11 to the role.

“My wife and I were driving along the highway in the south [of Sweden] when my mobile phone rang and someone called from Paris and said ‘Come home immediately. There’s a war. There’s a war. And drive, don’t go by airplane,’” said the France-based von Sydow. “That is a moment I will never forget and most of us I guess will always remember that moment.”

Thomas Horn, the 14-year-old who plays Oskar, said he had no personal recollection of 9/11 but talked to families of victims in New York to prepare for the part.

“I became more emotionally connected to the event definitely by going to New York and talking to the people who lost their relatives,” he said. “It was really sad to talk to them. But in some ways I was happy they seemed to have found ways to move on from their loss.”

“Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close” screened out of competition at the Berlin film festival, which closes on Feb. 19.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on February 13, 2012, on page 16.

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