Richard Komárek belongs among emerging Czech directors who are experienced in local models of Czech TV production formats. With Play 9/11, an ambitious documentary investigation of the post-9/11 world, he attended the 2012 East European Forum to look for fresh inspiration and potential co-production partners.
An obligatory question: What led you to 9/11 topic?
The genesis is rather tangled. Together with Dušan Mulíček, the project co-author, we got interested in Pavel Hlava’s story. We found out Hlava authored one of the only three recordings showing the Twin Towers being hit by the planes, which stood at the beginning of the events that changed his life. Initially, we were interested in the authors of all the three recordings, including Wolfgang Stahle who agreed to feature in our project, and Naudet brothers who refused us like many crews before. Since we couldn’t do the Naudets and Stahle was not that interesting, Hlava remained the most intriguing character and we felt we had to combine it with some other stories of people connected to 9/11. We didn’t look up anyone linked directly to the tragedy. After all, there have already been a lot of documentaries and reports made on this. We were looking for people whose lives were influenced by 9/11 in all kind of ways and finally, we realized that Twin Towers models represent a different shape of one tragedy’s memory, while it is something that links many people and ties their stories together.
How old is the idea? It has been some time since the incidents.
The idea came up two years ago. We found Hlava, a typical Czech 'Švejkian' character who travelled to the United States to earn some money for a house, and suddenly found himself in such an unusual situation. He kept the recording for two years, not knowing he had something that important, showing it to his friends, and finally selling it to ABC for a large sum of money. But, similarly to the emotions around the attacks that have been calming down over the years, Hlava has been losing the fortune he obtained quickly. His 9/11 story is now rather a vanishing memory. The story gets, however, very complicated. And we intended to re-construct it and, eventually, put the story forward - take Hlava back to the USA and confront him with all the people and former friends involved in the lawsuit about his recording’s copyright. In a nutshell, we wanted to film a biography of the recording, as well as of the other 9/11 recordings, for that matter, and get into those people’s lives.
So I guess these are the 11 people, 11 perspectives, 11 lives from your synopsis. Who is the character audience can identify with? Pavel Hlava, or all the 11 characters?
Well, this is when we get to a sort of crossroads. My colleague once told me we were fighting the universe with this film; we lost support of the public broadcaster a day before shooting although we had everything arranged, like Pavel Hlava’s miraculously obtained visa to the U.S. So we decided to go on and finish the documentary independently, but couldn’t afford to take Hlava with us. Even though we have shot some good stuff in the U.S., most of the fellow documentarians and producers in the Czech Republic advised us to follow Hlava’s story, exclusively, with no doubts. Nevertheless, we are expecting some fresh opinions, suggestions and observations from international perspective at the upcoming East European Forum. It may help us conclude where we want to go with this project.
Relating to your expectations about the position of foreign commissioning editors towards the dramaturgy: your project seems to partially question American patriotism, don’t you feel this may potentially endanger the documentary entering U.S. distribution?
Even Hlava’s story itself reflects patriotism but you are right, it is a questionable issue. There was so much patriotism all around the place when we got there for the 10 year, some of it felt bogus, but it was very serious at the same time. So it depends if we go deeper into this issue.
The truth is that every 9/11 related character we filmed there was truly convinced about their actions, though they couldn’t really explain why. They simply do it because they just need to deal with the tragedy somehow, which is interesting for us. I can’t imagine something like this happening here in the Czech Republic.
Take a look at the trucker. He devoted his life to travel around the U.S. in his self-made truck to commemorate Americans of the tragedy. He took us 2000 miles down to Tennessee to a concert where we experienced even stronger patriotic tensions. Similar is the group of volunteers, some sort of patriotic league which goes from place to place just to roll up a huge American flag during the commemorative events. The patriotism is there, and sometimes it gets to an extreme. Nevertheless, we got some positive reactions about the project and we hope it could be interesting for the American documentary market as well. Especially Hlava, a controversial, twisted and an almost parasitic character who basically considers September 11, 2001 his lucky day.
It is interesting to see how spread around the world your characters are. How did you find them?
Well, for example the boy we found in Serbia… We were looking for other people who created the Twins models, there may be lots of them, but we present the most interesting ones in the movie. So we were googling the internet and found the Serbian guy, providing a different point of view, a very sensitive one. His country has its own experiences with the United States and NATO, Serbia still keeps in a museum the American jet it brought down during the bombing.
Mixed feelings are even stronger in Afghanistan, which is represented by the tailor of war rugs that are actually sold in the U.S. We intended to go there as well, to see how 9/11 and the Twin Towers are perceived by Afghan people today. There are, in fact, many places in outside Kabul where they've never heard of terrorist attacks. We want to show them that 9/11 happened, see them react to it and find out if they even care. Well, the fact is that 9/11 was overshadowed by a local tragedy, the murder of a political leader.
It is true that connecting perspectives on 9/11 perhaps seems rather complicated and megalomaniac, but there are several ways to structure the documentary – taking Hlava as a detailed piece that regards the whole, or employ all the 11 pieces to show the detail. So it will be either Hlava alone or the set of stories. In any case, it is very interesting for us to show the variety in perspectives, every country has a unique one.
What is unique about the Czech perspective then? Is it only Hlava?
The film does not aim to give any Czech perspective, but as I said before, he has something that is typically Czech, something naïve and half-baked. Hlava founded the bizarre disco club he named ‘Twins,’ dedicated to the buildings and to the memory of 9/11. He would invite all his friends and screen his recordings of the attacks, commenting on it and make a sort of show out of it. He invited us, too. We stayed long enough to see people got overexcited and almost anti-American or anti-everything, especially the younger ones.
With all due respect to Pavel Hlava, I still don´t understand his thinking. How can someone do something like that? I would understand him selling the recording to make money and buy something nice. But I don’t get why he uses it to open a night club called ‘Twins’, puts a huge sculpture of the World Trade Center in it, decorates it with 9/11 images and, on top of that, screens a loop of the recording down there. So while people are getting drunk, the recording is being shown in the background. What is more, the pictures are actually very intense, authentic, it takes you right back to September 11, 2001, and the emotions can be felt although some time has passed. I asked Hlava about all this and of course he said he only intended to pay a tribute to the tragedy, but he does so in a very undignified way. So I guess Hlava’s case and all we experienced in his club may tell a lot about Czech perspective, mirroring our pettiness and calculation.
You seem to avoid any attempts to disclose what is behind the 9/11 attacks. Does it mean audiences won't get to enjoy any conspiration theories? No investigation à la Michael Moore?
No, that would definitely only add to something that has been done before, and besides, we wouldn't be able to film such a documentary if we don´t spend enough time in the U.S. On the other hand, when we visited the WTC site during the September memorial, we could see there were two conflicting worlds: the official show, fortified with barriers, and the festival-like 'conspiration stage' outside the site. So while we may touch on these issues, it is not our main focus.
We want to understand the authors of the objects – the Twins models – and the way they are reflected in them. It is a matter of communication for those people. Be it a sculpture, a rug or a recording, it shows their attitude, their voice. It connects all the people together, but, at the same time, shows various characters and the different shapes of one memory.
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Play 9/11 , Czech Republic, 90 min, HD, Society
A documentary about people who have formed their memory of September 11 into Twin Towers' shape. A documentary about people whose lives have been formed by the memory of September 11. The 11 chapters of the documentary will introduce 11 figurations of the Twin Towers, 11 different memories created by people from all over the world, 11 different opinions about 9/11, 11 original stories of people affected by 9/11.