Last year, I wrote an essay asking whether anyone could ever truly make a film about 9/11.
As with the Holocaust, some occurrences are so overwhelming that while it is essential that we be able to contextualize them in film, it may be impossible to do so. After writing that essay, writer-producer Cyrus Nowrasteh asked if I’d review the unreleased DVD of the ABC 2006 miniseries "The Path to 9/11" – which I have.
"The Path to 9/11" is a fascinating, and often compelling, docudrama that meticulously tracks the events that led up to that horrible day. The film is technically and artistically impressive, covering the grand scope of worldwide events from the 1993 WTC bombing all the way up to the moments following the attacks.
The trick with a piece that runs five hours and covers so many incidents is to keep everything interesting from a dramatic angle. For the most part, Nowrasteh and director David L. Cunningham accomplish this.
Foreign events first focus on the attempts by CIA agent “Kirk” (Donnie Wahlberg) to capture Ramzi Yousef, while detailing the latter’s plot to blow up the WTC. Following this, much of Kirk’s time is spent in the most compelling human aspect of the miniseries – his friendship and strategic plotting with Northern Alliance leader Ahmed Shah Massoud (Mido Hamada). These segments are well-produced, well-cast, and most importantly, has the kind of believable locations that add to their verisimilitude. These segments provide the audience with the kind of in-the-trenches detail that make for fascinating viewing.
The drama is less successful on the domestic front. While the details regarding each step leading to 9/11 are carefully laid out, much of the drama deals with FBI Special Agent John O’Neill (Harvey Keitel) and his allies being frustrated by bureaucratic and political concerns of the Clinton Administration. Repeated frustration doesn’t make for terribly compelling material, but the actors all bring the material to life as best they can, and the result is nonetheless intriguing on an intellectual level.
A lot of credit goes to Cunningham for his inspired direction. He is given the room to let the film breathe, particularly in the opening minutes, where the film delivers the necessary impressionistic observation of 9/11 as the day unfolds. Cunningham and his team of seven Emmy-award-winning editors pull together sequences worthy of big screen viewing, on par with director Terrence Malick's work, in some places. I would have loved to see the entire series cut and shot in this manner, but the fact that the series has several such sequences is a triumph on its own.
Speaking from artistic, dramatic, and technical perspectives, "The Path to 9/11" is unquestionably a cut above most other network miniseries efforts. It is always interesting, never drags and has sequences that are both suspenseful and tragic.
There is thus no reason whatsoever why ABC and The Walt Disney Company should not have repeated the series or release it on DVD domestically. That the piece has been released internationally on DVD, and that every single studio will always milk every penny out of their productions (particularly expensive ones like this), it is patently obvious that external political pressure has resulted in censorship of this fine work.
As I wrote last year, “We must reconnect with the emotional reality of our existence, and the emotional reality of 9/11. Regrettably, we have indeed become narcotized to it -- because we understandably want to be. That alone permits our enemy to make further gains towards destroying us. Thus, there is a necessity to find ways of reinterpreting the 9/11 experience into something we can make emotional sense out of.”
Quasi-High Art such as "The Path to 9/11" has value that transcends politics. Consequently, ABC and Disney have a moral imperative to release this series on DVD. The studio must put the nonsense of politics aside and do the right and noble thing by giving access to this work to all Americans.
Anything less is unbecoming.
This is censorship, pure and simple. Even worse, a failure to release this important work only enables our enemies, the truest personifications of evil in the 21st century, and the worst since Adolph Hitler.