Are the 'United 93' filmmakers doing the right thing?

Say this for the makers of United 93: They seem to be doing right by the victims’ families. As EW’s Missy Schwartz notes in the magazine’s new issue, Universal has secured the blessings of the families, and has scheduled a premiere at the opening night (April 25) of the fifth annual TriBeCa Film Festival, the fest near Ground Zero that began in 2002 as an effort to bring business and tourism back to Lower Manhattan in the wake of 9/11. Now, Universal has announced that it’s giving 10 percent of the grosses from the opening weekend of United 93‘s theatrical release (April 28) to the fund drive to build the memorial to the Flight 93 passengers at the crash site in Pennsylvania.

Will that 10 percent be enough to inoculate the filmmakers from charges of exploiting a recent tragedy for profit? I doubt it. Comparisons have been made to Schindler’s List (some of whose profits Steven Spielberg spent recording the oral histories of Holocaust survivors for educational purposes), but the Holocaust, while historically recent, is still distant enough for some perspective. In contrast, Ground Zero is still a gaping wound, and 9/11 feels like yesterday for many of us, particularly New Yorkers. That includes me — like many of you, I’m not ready to see United 93.

I’m sure it will be well-made, given director Paul Greengrass’ previous success at turning a historical tragedy into a compelling docudrama (Bloody Sunday). I’m willing to take the filmmakers’ statements of good intentions at face value, and the approval of the families suggests that the film will be tastefully made. Greengrass and Universal have a right to tell whatever story they want, and they have right to profit from their work. But I’m going to be exercising my right to sit this one out.


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  • Josh

    I can understand why some might be upset with this being so recent, and especially how Muslim-Americans and other minorities might fear more backlash depending on their depictions in such films. But as an intelligent film-goer, I do not have a problem with this film. Why? Because I love to feel. ‘Titantic’ made me cry when everyone was drowning, even though it wasn’t recent, because so many people died so tragically (Jack dying at the end didn’t bother me though, because I saw it coming and he was fictional). For examples of films with recent events, films as diverse as ‘Hotel Rwandaa,’ ‘Black Hawk Down’ (a horrible situation and underrated film) and HBO’s ‘The Laramie Project’ have deeply affected me. It’s one thing for networks to all compete, as they used to, with TV-films-of-the-week capitalizing on Amy Fischer and so forth — kind of disgusting the way these projects were rushed. But I applaud the serious filmmakers who want to tell stories that challenge us, even if they’re fresh. Perhaps a recent perspective will make a better film than a distant perspective, perhaps not. And maybe the film will help people grieve and continue on with their lives (I’ve read many a story of a life that was touched because of something they saw on screen, i.e. a cancer story when the person has cancer themselves). I hope this film does well both critically and in the box office, so that studios aren’t afraid to make these important reminders (but not so well that we do get rushed, insenstive copycats).

  • Scott

    I actually saw the preview of United 93 last night at the movies and it looks like it will be a really poignant film. No time will the right time for some people. But, as long as they make a great film and the families of the victims do not feel like the memories of their loved ones are being exploited, I have no problem and will definitely go see it. Besides, those who feel it’s too soon don’t have watch it.

  • dub

    i’m much more on the side of Gary, or Scott’s earlier popwatch piece (which is also very thoughtful).
    for me, Titanic is a fictional love story set on a sinking ship. not an historical account of anything.
    also, Hotel Rwanda, Black Hawk Down, & the Laramie Project are films based in truth seeking to tell stories — however tragic — with which moviegoers may not have been intimately familiar. the difference here is that there were survivors to help with the re-telling; people who could say “actually, this is how it happened.”
    United 93 is a film about an event that is already seared into the collective consciousness of the American public; an event which has drastically changed the climate of our lives. this is so soon and so close that i fear it will not continue to inspire the hope we have all struggled to regain, but will rather instill the same feelings of fear, helplessness, and anger. we know what those passengers sacrificied, and i can think of no one who doesn’t already understand that they were ordinary people who — under extraordinary cricumstances — acted courageously for America.

  • Brian

    How is it any more or less appropriate to make or not make a movie based on historical events? Should we not have made Titanic, or Gettysburg, or The Pianist? There are stories to be told, let people tell them. Even though this story is still pretty fresh from the real world it can still be told, and anyone who thinks it should not be told or is offended by it does not need to pay $8.00 to sit and watch it.

  • jim

    They should wait a few more years. It’s way too soon.

  • Ep Sato

    If the families are okay with this movie being made, then I am okay with the movie being made. However, even if the movie does become a major hit I won’t see it. And while 10% is a good move in the right direction, 50% or more would have gotten rid of all the haters.

  • Bill Scurry

    Toss some snakes in, and I’m there.

  • Tim L

    I never imagined a film, regardless of family support, of this nature would appear so soon. I think Greengrass’s intentions are good and that he wants to do the story honour, but I still think that given that the new tower hasen’t even been built yet that perhaps this is a little too soon. Even watching the trailer was troublesome to me and I am not even American. I think it is an event that changed the world and it is impossible to truly find a right time to talk about this.

  • Jill

    Bill:
    sick sick sick sick sick, funny, but sick sick sick sick sick…

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