Sept. 11 Events Dramatized on Big Screen

A spate of movies recreating some of the events from Sept. 11 begin appearing this month, starting with the film United 93. Portraying Sept. 11 events on the big screen is an emotional proposition.

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Many family members of those who died on flight 93 have voiced support for a new movie about what happened when the plane went down. But other 9/11 families are dismayed over this film, and another, titled World Trade Center, set for release this summer. NPR's Kim Masters reports on whether the public is ready to watch these films.

KIM MASTERS reporting:

Over the weekend, families of those who died on United 93, went to screenings of the film named for the ill-fated flight.

Unidentified man #1: We have a plane headed toward the capital.

Unidentified man #2: What the hell is wrong out there?

Unidentified man #1: May we engage, sir?

MASTERS: Patrick White's cousin, Louis Joseph Nacke, was on the plane. He says the film is so vivid that family members found themselves caught up in the drama.

Mr. PATRICK WHITE (Cousin of 9/11 Victim): There was an aspect of the suspense that, they were kind of hoping, although they new differently, that maybe it would turn out okay.

MASTERS: White says watching the film was difficult but necessary.

Mr. WHITE: And I likened it to debriding a wound; where it has somehow started to heal, but really hasn't done so in a way that's clean.

MASTERS: Universal Pictures has announced that it will contribute a percentage of box office revenue toward constructing a monument to the victims. White is a co-chair of the task force to create that memorial. But he says the film's importance goes far beyond the realization of that dream.

Mr. WHITE: If you believe trying to find long-term solutions to the cultural divides that exist, between the folks who were the perpetrators of these murders, and those who were--I don't want to call them victims--then you should see this film.

MASTERS: But Deborah Roberts, whose husband died in the World Trade Center, says it's too soon for this or any other film about the events of 9/11. She's starting to heal, she says. But there are still painful reminders every day.

Ms. DEBORAH ROBERTS (Husband Killed on September 11th): I received a letter two weeks ago, they think they possibly have my husband's wedding ring.

MASTERS: She says she's especially concerned about how these movies will affect her four children.

Ms. ROBERTS: We don't have that closure of, you know, when somebody normally dies, and you have the funeral and the burial. We don't have that. My oldest son still thinks my husband is out there with amnesia.

MASTERS: Later this summer, Paramount will release Oliver Stone's World Trade Center, a film about two police officers rescued in the aftermath of the attacks. Theresa Creadence's(ph) older brother, Tom Gorman, was a Port Authority police officer who died at the World Trade Center. Credence says she recently met with producers of the Paramount film, and found herself bursting into tears before she could speak.

Ms. THERESA CREADENCE (Brother Killed on September 11th): I think there's a strange sense of, you know, what do they know that I don't know? What do they think they know about my experience, or anybody here in New York's experience? They don't live here. They--you know, they're from Hollywood.

MASTERS: Not surprisingly, at least some members of the general public also seem resistant to movies about 9/11. Industry research shows that nationwide, an exceptional 10 percent of the time, audiences had an audibly negative reaction to the United 93 trailer. Twelve percent of potential filmgoers said they definitely do not want to see United 93. Compared with the usual one or two percent who expressed such feelings, that number is also unusually high.

Mr. ADAM FOGLESON (President of Marketing, Universal Studios): For a movie that deals with as complex issues as this one, that's a reasonable number. And it's not particularly concerning to me, at all.

MASTERS: Adam Fogleson is head of marketing at Universal. He says director Paul Greengrass has done his subject justice.

Mr. FOGELSON: When an artist of Paul's caliber believes there is a story to tell, and as a studio, we feel comfortable that it's being done respectfully, and responsibly, and honoring the memory of the heroism of those onboard, and contextualizing it in terms of this extraordinary day--I think, that is a reason for a film to exist.

MASTERS: In a statement, Paramount takes a similar position on World Trade Center. The studio says the movie tells a story of courage and sacrifice. It is never too soon to honor true heroes, the statement adds. Certainly, other films that dealt with national traumas were released in five years of those events. But Tom Sherak, a veteran movie marketer, says 9/11 cannot be compared with the Vietnam War or other American nightmares. Sherak is a partner in Revolution Studios, which released Black Hawk Down. That film dealt with the disastrous 1993 U.S. mission in Somalia.

Mr. TOM SHERAK (Partner, Revolution Studios): Black Hawk Down happened somewhere else. I know that's a horrible--it happened somewhere else. It happened in another place. It happened in another world. It happened. It didn't happen here.

MASTERS: And Sherak says that distinction leaves him wondering whether audiences might conclude they are not yet ready to relive September 11th.

Kim Masters, NPR News, Los Angeles.

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