On the morning of Tuesday, Sept. 11, 2001 — the midpoint of the annual Toronto Film Festival — projection booths were warming up to unspool dozens of films.
But thousands of visiting filmmakers, critics and industry professionals, many from the U.S., never left their hotels. Instead, they gathered with friends and colleagues in front of the smallscreen to watch the unfolding horrors of four coordinated terror attacks against targets in New York and Washington.
Every year since, the festival has programmed films that, in various ways, explore the meaning or aftermath of the tragic events, beginning in 2002 with the “11’09’01” omnibus of 11 films, each 11 minutes and 9 seconds long.
Today, the 10th anniversary of 9/11 attacks, the festival will screen a specially commissioned four-minute short in front of every public screening. Sponsors all agreed to pull their trailers from all Sunday screenings to allow for a more reflective atmosphere.
“When we started thinking and talking about this project over a year ago, two things were very clear,” said festival co-director Cameron Bailey, an active film journalist during the 2001 fest. “This is something people experienced here together in the middle of a celebration of an art form. But it’s also something people experienced individually — so we wanted to find the right balance to reflect that juxtaposition.”
The short is a straightforward piece weaving together first-person recollections from a number of industry people of their reactions and experiences that day.
As some may recall, Piers Handling and Michele Maheux held a short press conference at noon that day announcing the festival was cancelling the rest of the day’s screenings and providing details about a trauma response team was made available to assist festival guests coping with the tragedy.
“The festival decided to cancel all the red carpets, social events, parties — and any other activities that would seem out of character with the sombre daze everyone was going through,” Bailey recalls.
The festival did resume public and press and industry screenings, he adds, “as a commitment to the art form and the work of the filmmakers, many of whom traveled long distances and, like hundreds of other people here, were also dealing with practical issues of how to get home.”
After today’s screenings, the film will be available on the fest’s website until the end of this year’s event. “The intention is to allow viewers to reflect on their own memories of that day,” Bailey says. “We don’t want to impose out view, but simply say, ‘Here’s what we remember.'”