Alto Weekly Online Edition
Sept. 20, 2001
Cinematic fall out
Studios delay releases and alter upcoming films
following last week's attacks
by Jeanne Aufmuth
Editor's note: When last Tuesday's terrorist attacks occurred,
Weekly film critic Jeanne Aufmuth was in Toronto, Ontario attending
the annual Toronto Film Festival. The following story chronicles
her experiences at the festival following the attacks, as well as
its impact on the film industry. With many films being yanked or
postponed, there will consequently be no movie reviews in today's
Personally and professionally complacent. That sums up my state
of mind as I was moving from film to film at the Toronto International
Film Festival last week, secure in the knowledge that I was doing
what I loved most with people who share my passion at its most heightened
level. Filmgoers, filmmakers, journalists and actors from all over
the world bask in the glow of this annual event, confident in the
belief that movies are the art form that makes the world go 'round.
Last Tuesday, that idyllic picture splintered into a crashing reality.
Emerging from a screening of a poignant ensemble drama titled "Last
Orders", I was confronted with frantic filmgoers and festival
volunteers flailing their hands excitedly and rapidly speaking into
their cell phones. The word traveled like wildfire to an international
crowd of bewildered movie celebrants -- the World Trade Center in
New York had been attacked. Disbelief was quickly replaced by shock,
and then fear. I was able to contact home to glean even more of
the grim facts. The next film on the agenda, a Jack the Ripper account
known as "From Hell," was agonizing. I couldn't concentrate,
indeed couldn't think of anything except that I was separated from
my daughters by a semi-continent at a time when I needed to be with
them the most.
Piers Handling, director of one of the most influential film festivals
of the calendar year, quickly took action and cancelled the remainder
of Tuesday's screenings. When activities resumed the next day, it
was to somber crowds and half-filled screening rooms. Movie prints
were stranded on foreign shores due to severely limited air travel,
and several directors pulled their offerings from the lineup altogether
because of controversial content. My first film that day was a disenfranchised-teen
piece from Japan called "Blue Spring". It depicted teenagers
jumping off buildings to their deaths and knifing fellow students,
and was clearly altogether too much to handle for an audience who
skulked out one by one.
Anticipating this kind of negative reaction, the major Hollywood
studios took matters into their own hands, by re-scheduling or postponing
indefinitely the opening dates of films with a high violent content.
Ditto films containing too-close-to-home subject matter such as
high-rise bombings, airplane hijackings and troubling religious
Arnold Schwarzenegger's "Collateral Damage" (L.A. high-rise
bombing) and Tim Allen's "Big Trouble" (suitcase housing
a nuclear bomb) are just two of the projects to suffer from the
fallout. Films depicting images of the World Trade Center, such
as Sam Raimi's "Spider-Man" (May, 2002) and Barry Sonnenfeld's
"Men in Black 2" (July, 2002), will go back into post-
production to edit out any reference to the fallen landmarks. Trailers
showing Spider-Man effortlessly spinning his web between New York's
tallest skyscrapers have been scrapped.
We are a country of moviegoers who wallow in onscreen violence.
Firearms, explosions and gunplay -- the more the merrier. I confess
to a peculiar taste for the psychologically dark and twisted. But
bring those realities home and we sing a very different song. Down
come the carefully constructed barriers between art and life, between
entertainment and someone else's pain.
"Training Day," featuring Denzel Washington in an extraordinary
performance as a loose-cannon cop with a thirst for malevolence,
rocked my world early into the Toronto Fest. This day-in-the-life
of a wacked-out L.A.P.D. nutcase was spectacularly exhilarating.
But watching fictional criminals die gruesome deaths does not go
hand in hand with flashing on helpless victims trapped in claustrophobic
Originally scheduled to open today, "Training Day's" release
date has now been pushed forward to Oct. 5, to put a respectful
distance between real-life fatalities and a potentially pleasurable
Movies, however, will not only survive; they will thrive. And they
should. Film attendance was at record highs during World War II,
an historical time when our nation utilized cinema as the ultimate
escape. People went to the movies to laugh and to cry, and to wallow
in someone else's misery or happiness. Early numbers from the weekend
immediately following the Sept. 11 attack actually show an increase
in box office dollars. Overall business surged well ahead of the
same weekend last year, strengthening the resolve of the film industry
to soldier on. The historical pattern looks to be repeating itself,
even as our country rallies behind the indefinite journey our leadership
chooses to take us on.
If there was a lesson learned last week, it is that time is finite.
There is still time in our lives to enjoy the art and culture that
surround us. For every "Collateral Damage" there is a
"Serendipity", a promising valentine to romance and destiny.
Whatever your escape of choice, that route will be opened to you
The 2001 Toronto Film Festival closed on an unusual note. Due to
a succession of cancelled flights, and an intense desire to be enveloped
by the loving circle of our family, my husband and I rented a car
and drove the 2600 miles home from Eastern Canada. Forward motion
at all costs. From the airwaves came an overwhelming outpouring
of support for our country, from our neighboring Canadians and the
industrial automobile giants of Detroit to the tiniest outposts
of Wyoming. We are a people of intense national pride -- we will
survive. And the movies will survive along with us.