The Blog

How soon is too soon for reality to become entertainment?

Films are often taking ideas from real life. There are biopics, films based on non-fiction books, true stories (normally about a person who overcame something horrible). Sometimes though, there are films based on an event that took place and shook the world - the day JFK was shot, man landing on the moon, the death of Princess Diana and 9/11.

On the ten year anniversary of the attacks on the US, people are getting nostalgic. No longer are the youth asking their parents or grandparents "Where were you when...", but they are remembering it themselves. On September 11th 2001, I was working at the local cinema, the summer before I was due to start university. Someone came in and told me a plane had crashed in New York. "Oh," I said - because let's face it, stuff like that sadly happens all the time. I then went for my lunch-break by crossing the massive main road over to Sainsbury's. It was not until I entered the store that I sensed something might be wrong. It was like an apocalypse. It was lunchtime and there was nobody around. I found the majority of the store's shoppers in the electronics aisle - glued to the TVs. Both the twin towers were billowing smoke and nobody seemed to know what was happening. I quickly bought my lunch and headed back to the staff room to see what I could find out on our little TV. By the time I crossed back and switched on the news, only one tower remained.

This was a day that nobody is going to forget. People will be telling their stories for years to come. And yet only five years later, two films were being made about the atrocities - United 93, which followed the passengers of the plane who forced it down before it could hit its chosen landmark and World Trade Center, covering the story of two police officers who were trapped in the rubble.

Personally, I have no desire to watch these films. There have been numerous heart-breaking documentaries made which show the atrocities for what they were. Fahrenheit 9/11 (2004) by Michael Moore looked controversially at the reaction to the events and the war it led to. But the idea of making a sort of biopic about the actual people involved so soon after the events themselves just doesn't sit well with me and still doesn't today. I am told that the films were done tastefully and with cast members meeting the families of the victims. They also got permission from the families themselves.

An excellent point raised on Twitter was that nothing was made about the London bombings or Madrid. I was living in Spain at the time of the Madrid bombings and the Spanish people's reaction was fascinating. The royal family went and spoke to families after the memorial service, shook their hands, embraced them. Then there were protests where thousands of Spaniards screamed expletives in perfect unison to show how angry they were. And not once did I fear the protests would descend into rioting or anarchy. There was a solidarity in their anger. Only days after the Madrid bombings, a new Prime Minister was elected - and not the one who had been odds-on to win, but the one who wanted Spanish troops out of Iraq and Afghanistan.

But have films been made about this element? No.

Do I believe that films should be made about actual events? Absolutely! The Holocaust is as relevant today as it's ever been. People should be aware of how easily racism turned into genocide and it is still taking place in many parts of the world today. Any film that looks at the events surrounding that atrocity is vital. Schindler's List, The Pianist and The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas should be essential viewing for every person on the planet, in my humble opinion. But, though films referenced the Holocaust only years after the war, it is with perspective and hindsight that they are made now, more than fifty years later.

The Queen (2006) was made almost ten years after the death of Princess Diana and instead of focusing on the event itself, bravely explored the reaction in the week following her death through the eyes of the British royal family.

Books are a different matter entirely. The Diary of Anne Frank was first published in 1947, only two years after the war ended, and translated into English in 1952. The play was done in 1955 and the first film adaptation in 1959. Sophie's Choice was published in 1979 and turned into a film three years later in 1982. The Diary of Anne Frank remains today as one of the best sources of literature about World War Two and the Holocaust. It is an honest portrayal of a young girl caught up in it all and having that chance to connect to one person makes it all real.

Many books have been published on 9/11, largely non-fiction tributes and accounts of what happened. There are now fiction books being published which force you to think about the day from a new perspective. The recently published The Submission by Amy Waldman looks at the racism which the events have left behind. The reaction targeted at the Muslim community was massive and Muslims are still the victim of racial abuse today due to a small group of extremists who claimed to be killing in the name of their religion.

So do we need to think about it still? Absolutely. The effects of 9/11 can still be seen today all over the world. It has altered the planet in ways we no doubt cannot fully comprehend yet. But will I watch the films made about it? Not for another few years at least...

I just dread to think of a day when 9/11 is made into a film Titanic style where there is a love story and cheesy romance... but sadly it seems inevitable.

Thanks to my Twitter friends @thommoj03 @thompson_film @mamajhearts @maxwellhubbard @KlarissaShaning @sinjoor for joining in the debate.