Longer listens: "United 93"

The director and cast of "United 93" talk about making a difficult film


Salon Staff
April 26, 2006 4:15AM (UTC)

"United 93," Paul Greengrass' film about the fourth hijacked flight on Sept. 11, 2001, debuts at the Tribeca Film Festival on Tuesday night. The film, which Greengrass wrote, produced and directed, is the first non-documentary theatrical release about the Sept. 11 attacks (two other movies about the doomed flight have been made for television: the Discovery Channel's "The Flight That Fought Back" and A&E's "Flight 93"); it depicts the events of the flight in real time, focusing on the actions of the passengers, hijackers and flight controllers on the ground. Though some of these events are not definitively documented, Greengrass worked with every available resource, including cellphone transcripts of passengers and interviews with family members after the fact, to make "United" as accurate as possible. Unsurprisingly, the film has already generated controversy -- there are those who believe it is too soon for a film about 9/11 to be released, despite the fact that most of the victims' families supported it, even participating in its production. (Read Stephanie Zacharek's review here.)

Universal Pictures, the movie's distributor, held a round-table last week to allow members of the press to talk to people involved with the film. In this first clip (12:12, MP3), Greengrass (who also directed "The Bourne Supremacy," and "Bloody Sunday," about the 1972 Northern Ireland massacre), talks about the difficulty in making a responsible film about 9/11, revisiting the mythology surrounding the flight -- including things like running a trolley cart down an aisle -- and the first moments of the post-9/11 world. He also addresses criticisms of the film, saying that movies are just one of many ways we tell stories, and to "disenfranchise" them unfairly singles out the medium. "We're not going to let our filmmakers make films about 9/11?" he asks of his detractors. "I don't understand that. That can't be right."

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In this clip (8:17, MP3), three actors -- Christian Clemenson, Cheyenne Jackson and David Alan Basche, who played Thomas E. Burnett Jr., Mark Bingham and Todd Beamer, respectively -- talk about their experience making the film. Clemenson, Jackson and Basche, like the 30 other actors who played passengers, were in some degree of contact with family members to learn the mannerisms, personalities and clothing styles of the deceased. Here, they discuss the unique nature of the film, from its long, grueling takes to the multitude of emotions on set and "hugely generous" cooperation of the families.

A number of other characters in the film -- those involved from the ground -- play themselves, including Ben Sliney, FAA operations manager on Sept. 11 (which happened to be his first day on the job). In this third clip (8:27, MP3), Sliney talks about what that day was actually like, his first acting gig, how security measures have changed since 9/11 and his unprecedented order to completely shut down U.S. airspace. "We handle 45 million flights a year," he assures. "Most of them get there."

-- Joe DiMento


Salon Staff

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