- Other American Voices
The global response to the 9/11 attack on the World Trade Center was an immediate recognition that something unthinkable had taken place. In the United States we understood how solidly the world stood with us when we saw the images of Yasser Arafat giving blood and heard that the headline in the French newspaper Le Monde cried out "Nous sommes tous américains." Yet today the policies of France and Arafat are frequently at odds with the approach endorsed by U.S. governmental officials. The lines that have been drawn inevitably raise the question: why did things happen as they did?
Although Other American Voices, filmed in 2002, does not look at these questions from our vantage point as the Iraq war draws to a close (it was produced before the war and the politics directly leading up to it), the video does communicate the concerns of those within the U.S. who criticized the course of action taken after that fateful day. To their credit, Belz and Hollander provide a platform for some who have articulated pointed questions. The value of this is inestimable. In the States, I believe, the media has muted critical voices in the name of patriotism. This production, as the title emphasizes, introduces Other American Voices. Amy Goodman of Democracy Now sets the stage with her memory of how people began displaying pictures of the individuals reported missing after the attack. The inexplicable loss of so many innocent lives remains as hard to reconcile today as it was then. Goodman's thoughtful reflections and manner reminded me of the photographs shown to those of us far from the New York area. We were transfixed by the walls plastered with these gripping signifiers of those who had vanished into thin air. Goodman aptly compares these heart-wrenching images with those held by the mothers of the disappeared in Argentina, who would walk around with the photographs of loved children they had lost, asking if anyone had seen those of their family long missing. Another voice, Asif Ulla of the War Resisters League, speaks of the Muslim community's fear after the attack. Noam Chomsky, Richard Deats and Katrina van den Heuvel (editor-in-chief of The Nation) are similarly convincing as they reflect on the curtailment of policy debate that accompanied the promotion of patriotism after 9/11.
The film parallels footage of the World Trade Center cleanup with all of the interviews, which returns the viewer to those days and their aftermath. Although each interviewee brings a different focus to the events that transpired, as a whole they articulate how 9/11 brought the face of terror to the United States. One recurring concern is that an Orwellian repression has prevailed since the attacks. Carmen Trotta of the Catholic Workers Party expresses this with great passion. His view is that one of the most disturbing aspects of the government's actions since that day has been its attack on the Bill of Rights, the very cornerstone of American democracy. Somewhat alarming is his statement that, based on his experience, he now assumes his phones are tapped. Jerry Lefcourt and Joshua L. Dratel of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers lament that we have moved into an era of political spying in which secret evidence and secret proceedings increasingly deny people basic rights. Overall, the consensus of Other American Voices is that the United States, born in dissent, could become exactly what it historically has stood against.
An effective technique adopted by the filmmakers is grouping the responses by theme. I had the impression they asked each of the figures filmed specific questions and then collaged their answers to create the script and pace. While it is hard to say precisely what these questions were, it is clear they include whether dissent is a patriotic act, whether the United States is once again entering a repressive period similar to the McCarthyism of the 1950s, and where Iraq fits in the post 9/11 world. What...