Our Arts, Ourselves, Led By rockers, Women, Make Presence Felt

By Marian Liu

Too often, San Francisco punk rocker Jen Smith finds her band is the only female group on the bill at clubs. And she's always finding fans who never have seen a female guitarist before. Like Smith, women find themselves cling at the fringes. of music and art, feeling left out- of the big picture. But at Ladyfest, a five-day San Francisco festival celebrating feminism starting Wednesday, norms will be pushed and the big picture enlarged thousands of women will be flocking to celebrate sisterhood through art, music, performances and film.

"We needed to see images of ourselves on stage," said Allison Wolfe, singer for the punk rock band Bratmobile. "A lot of people will argue that in music, women are just not there, but that's not true. Women are there, doing different things, in all-girl bands, in female-fronted bands and short films.

"We need to meet and be encouraged by each other. Not many girls are acknowledged in bands. They are just encouraged to hold jackets while their boyfriend sings about his weird angst."

Wolfe organized the original Ladyfest. two years ago in Olympia. Since then, Ladyfest las been in New York, Illinois, the Netherlands, Scotland, Michigan and Indiana, with, the ideal of leveling the playing field for women and transgender artists. This will be the first time the festival has hit the Bay Area. In organizing the festival Wolfe looked at other festivals, like Vans Warp Tour, but saw that women were left out.

"I thought if we produced it, how different the picture would be," Wolfe said. "I think it would really be important to feature females at every level, creating, organizing and being the talent of the festival."

Ladyfest will feature more than 60 pieces of art, 30 bands, 85 films, 30 writers and spoken word artists and 40 workshops by women and transgender individuals.

"The Bay Area takes it for granted that women are equal counterparts in every facet of life, but in rock that is not really true," said Smith, guitarist for San Francisco band : Quails. "MTV totally confirms the cultural representation of women playing rock 'n' roll. It's very much objectified."

For Lynn Rapoport Ladyfest revitalized her feminism. She visited the first Ladyfest and saw thousands of girls who hitchhiked from Canada to get there.

"I saw all these people taking chances," said Rapoport, 30, now is one of the festival's live-art organizers. "At the core, I'm a feminist, hut I was not as strong as I could be; I was not getting out there. These women were taking control, producing art. They were putting themselves on the line."

For the festival, Rapoport helped line up such events as an all-women's Shakespeare fight scene, cabaret burlesque dances, comedy acts and spoken word - all women redefining feminism.

"People think feminism is a big F-word, that we are angry, man-hating women, but that's a terrible way to think of it," said Shannon Amidon, a 26-year-old San Jose artist whose 8-foot-tall mixed-media pieces will be featured at the festival. "We just want equality, the same rights as everyone else."

The visual arts exhibits speak to estrogen power as well, with such titles as "We're Still Feminists," "POW! Power of Women in Illustrative and Sequentive Art" and "Representing Ourselves." It includes everything from a quilt made of bras to punching bags.

For festival goers who want to learn how to dive into art, workshops ranging from how to be a drag queen to doll making.

"I think girls don't have so much of a voice or a visible presence," said 27-year-old San Jose photographer Ellie Brown, whose documentary photos of her sisters growing up will be shown at the festival. "Their voice tends to be represented through consumer culture."

The 85 films also cover topics from gender bending to re-framing Sept. 11. Oakland director Laura Plotkin's film "21" depicts the brutal beating of an Arabic looking woman 10 days after the World Trade Center attack. "I think it's really important to highlight the 'other' and not just get the status quo viewpoint," said Plotkin. "There are a lot of other viewpoints on the spectrum that we need to listen, explore and research."

©2002 San Jose Mercury News.


Critics Choice

By Fred Camper

In September 2001 independent filmmakers Jay Rosenblatt and Caveh Zahedi invited 150 colleagues to address the recent terror attacks, and though none of these 13 videos culled from the project is superb on its own, the mix of perspectives encourages us to think analytically about our own responses and the sources of the terrorists' hatred. The opening video, Frazer Bradshaw's The End of Summer, presents static suburban images, eerily empty of people, while in voice-over a little girl tries to understand the events of 9/11. The concluding one, an untitled work by Ira Sachs, is an appropriately silent montage of posters seeking lost loved ones. In her disturbing 21, American-born Niomi describes being attacked on the street by a man who tells her to "go back to the Middle East." Both Zahedi's The World Is a Classroom and Eva Ilona Brzeski's China Diary (911) detail the artists' emotional responses to smaller events in their personal lives, their narcissism obnoxious but instructive. It's telling that the most powerful piece has the least to offer aesthetically: The Voice of the Prophet. by Robert Edwards, is an interview with Rick Rescorla, security chief for Morgan Stanley, at his World Trade Center office in 1998. Terrorism will be "the nature of war in the future," Rescorla predicts, and our foreign policy is creating a "residue of hatred" in the world. Rescorla oversaw the evacuation of Morgan Stanley's offices in the south tower; thanks to him almost all of the 3.700 employees survived-but he didn't. Other pieces are by Rosenblatt, Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman, John Haptas and Kristine Samuelson, Norman Cowie, David Driver, and Paul Harrill. 76 min. Facets Cinematheque, 1517 W. Fullerton, Friday, June 14,7:00 and 8:45; Saturday and Sunday, June 15 and 16, 3:30, 5:15, 7:00, and 8:45 and Monday through Thursday, June 17 through 20, 7:00 and 8:45.

©2002 Chicago Reader



Before we are inundated with what will no doubt be a lion's share of indifferent movies about the events of 9/11, take the time to see UNDERGROUND ZERO, a thoughtful, intelligent take on what that day and its aftermath mean.

The film is an anthology of thirteen short films commissioned' by producers and filmmakers Jay Rosenblatt and Caveh Zahedi as meditation on the attacks of 9/11. Each short examines one facet of the emotions and thoughts that ran through each of us on that day. Some are exquisitely edited kaleidoscopes, like Eva Ilona Brzeski's CHINA DIARY (9/11) that pieces together scenes her September 2001 trip to China with her mother, using serene clips of the Great Wall and verdant gardens cut with shots of the TV in her hotel as it shows the towers collapsing. Later we hear her asking a Beijing resident if she has seen what happened on television. "Television?" is the puzzled reply.

Some are less artistic but no less powerful, like THE VOICE OF THE PROPHET, an oddly prescient piece by Robert Edwards that shows an interview with Ric Rescorla, the head of security for Morgan Stanley Dean Witter, New York, whom he filmed in his office on the 44th floor of the World Trade Center in 1998. A veteran of two armies and of actions in Cypress, Rhodesia, and Vietnam, Rescorla explains in a clear, spare military style why America's actions abroad will make the next battlefield the United States itself, with the enemy at our gates terrorists, not organized armies engaged in traditional assaults. Closer to home, and in many ways equally instructive, is Caveh Zahedi's THE WORLD IS A CLASSROOM, which starts a few days before 9/11 with Zahedi explaining to his students what his documentary film class will involve and then shows students verbalizing what the bombings made them feel. Conflict resolution takes on an immediacy for these students when one student's unhappiness with class policy escalates into class-stopping confrontations that seem insoluble. From a little girl in the suburbs to Tibetan Monks to a tearful 14-year-old rapper from Tribeca, individuals try to make sense and come to terms with a world that changed radically and in an instant. UNDERGROUND ZERO reflects that new world with all its newfound national pride, balancing insecurity, ambiguity, and a search for answers that might not be there.

Reflecting that, one of the most haunting and cautionary of the shorts for me is 21, a three-minute film by Laura Plotkin. It's a first-person account from Niomi, a Brooklyn-born and -bred woman with the accent to prove it, who was walking down the street ten days after 9/11 when a stranger grabbed her by the shoulders, spat in her face, and told her to go back to the Middle East. In gritty black-and-white, and in tight close-ups of her face dominated by large and still-scared dark eyes, she tells of people watching the assault and urging her attackers on. Tellingly, Plotkin never identifies Niomi's ethnicity.

The film ends with UNTITLED by Ira Sachs. Six eerie minutes long and without sound of any kind, Sachs shows us the faces of those lost on 9/11. Three seconds on each face, young, old, male, female, black, white, Asian, brown, each looks out at us, reminding us that no matter what the politics that took their lives, each unique soul is gone forever because of events, because of foreign policy, or because of religious fanaticism, in which they had no say and over which they had no control.

©2002 Killer Movie Reviews


Revisiting Ground Zero

Tribeca Fest Offers a New York Perspective on September 11 by Patricia Thomson

"New Yorkers aren't good victims," attests performance artist Laurie Anderson in the documentary From the Ashes: 10 Artists "It's not our style, We don't even know how to be victims"

That's evident this week as lower Manhattan rises like a phoenix from the rubble, its wings shimmering with glitter and stardust. Celebrities and premieres sprinkled throughout downtown by the Tribeca Film Festival will indubitably help repair the economic and psychic damage wrought by September 11, But while revitalization is the catalyst of the festival, catharsis is also on organizers' minds, "We knew that we wanted to pay tribute to the victims of 9/11," says festival director Trina Wyatt. "We also wanted to recognize formally what everyone in the neighborhood of lower Manhattan has gone through." These goals gave rise to several special programs and a panel discussion dealing with September 11, Wyatt estimates they received 75 to 100 works on the subject, mostly documentaries and shorts. When she initially volunteered to program the September 11-related films, she recalls, "I didn't know what I got myself into. There were so many, And it was basically re-living the event. That was hard."

Wyatt sorted through a pile of work that was, for the most part, first-person accounts of the attack and its aftermath. According to American University film scholar Pat Aufderheide, who has lectured on the subject, "It's not surprising that the first wave of film falls under the category of 'Me and the Event.' After all, we still don't know the history yet, because it's still unfolding," As she points out, a historical and artistic synthesis typically takes years to appear, The first major film on the Holocaust, Night and Fog, wasn't made until 1955, Coming Home and The War at Home, on Vietnam, appeared only at the end of the '70s.

Beyond their immediacy, the works that Wyatt selected all have one thing in common: a New York perspective. We see candlelight vigils in Union Square and peace marches in Times Square in 9/11; a Staten Island family breaking news to a seven seven year-old-year-old boy of his mother's death in HBO's Telling NicoLas; backlash attacks against an Arab-looking Brooklynite in 21; I Tribeca artists dealing with the devastation in From the Ashes; and a suburban child wondering why anyone would be mad at New York in End of Summer. There are also PSAs from a Tribeca youth group and from Imagine New York, an organization soliciting input on the rebuilding of Ground Zero. "It was a conscious decision to take the New York viewpoint for September 11," Wyatt explains. 'We also wanted to recognize that this area is really the creative heart of lower Manhattan." That's why they included From the Ashes even though it has already been circulating on the festival circuit. "How could we not show it? This is our neighborhood, our community; this is why the Tribeca Film Center is in this part of Manhattan, versus any other.

In From the Ashes, director Deborah Shaffer follows 10 artists as they grieve and struggle with the question of art's relevance in a post-September 11 world. An aching despondency comes from Pat Olesko, a performance artist whose costume-driven work is normally zany and fanciful. "My work as an artist is playing the fool. I question whether I can continue to do that," she says through her tears, But days later, some artists are back at work. Painter Jane Hammond, dragging her brush across a large canvas, recalls how people continued making art during World War II, "even in the concentration camps, So making art in my Soho loft isn't so bad."

Given the raw emotions and resiliency that fill these works, Wyatt made sure to leave time for discussion, believing that New Yorkers are still craving a way to process and share their experiences. Many will recognize themselves in these documents of artists, parents, and New Yorkers coping. "From a programming standpoint," says Wyatt, "I couldn't be more pleased."

©2002 Indie Wire


A Little Peace The Underground Zero project — one of the most important documentaries of the year — comes to the Fine Arts

By Kelly Vance

Two Bay Area filmmakers, Jay Rosenblatt and Caveh Zahedi, were among the many artists who responded to the events of 9/11. A week after the attack, they sent out a call to some 150 fellow filmmakers to record their impressions of 9/11 on tape or film. They queried noncommercial media artists like themselves, makers of experimental films and documentaries. The result is a two-part collection of shorts by 31 creators (including Rosenblatt and Zahedi), Underground Zero (76 minutes total running time) and Underground Zero II (78 min.).

For the most part, these artistically minded witnesses avoided the clichéd images we've grown so weary of seeing on TV news since 9/11. There are almost no American flags. There's one firefighter in the 31 films, but he's having fun on a sunny, uneventful day. No politicians. No evil masterminds. Scant footage of the World Trade Center towers and panic in the streets. Instead, there are lots of shots of children, of New York streets, of ordinary people in a reflective mood, of clouds and trees. The traumatic events are glimpsed obliquely. The tone is often somber, but as each of the well-paced segments progresses (Rosenblatt and Zahedi's editing together of the shorts is masterful) there is also a slowly rising tide of hope -- not exactly the same sentimental, small-townish kind we might see in a Frank Capra movie, but not so very far from that in the end. One gets the impression that these artists, for all their nonconformism, are after all Americans -- with a stubborn optimism that even such horrendous acts can't quite touch.

Haunting is the word for Robert Edwards' The Voice of the Prophet, an interview with retired Colonel Cyril "Rick" Rescorla, a veteran of both the British and US armies, seen sitting in his World Trade Center office in 1998, calmly weighing the motives of anti-American terrorists (who, he says, hate us with good reason) and warning us of the coming storm. At the end of the interview, a title tells us he died at the WTC on 9/11. In Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman's Isaiah's Rap, a fourteen-year-old TriBeCa kid named Isaiah Gage shows us the view from his rooftop -- the hole in the skyline where the WTC used to be -- and then launches into a rap about war and peace. Untitled by Ira Sachs is particularly unnerving: a montage of snapshots and portraits of 9/11 victims with absolutely no soundtrack, a silent procession of the dead. Filmmaker Paul Harrill goes to a group of Tibetan Buddhist monks -- seen fashioning a sand mandala in Tennessee -- for words of wisdom on the horror of 9/11. They merely giggle in that maddening Tibetan-monk way and inform him that the answer cannot be spoken.

Spiritualism of all sorts is evident in the two collections. It seems to be the underground filmmakers' amulet, in the same way that jingoism is for network and cable news. Instead of waving the flag or resorting to easy pathos, many of the Underground Zero commentators reach deep into the collective consciousness, seeking solace in dreams of peace. Rosenblatt's Prayer is the most sublime example of this supplicating approach to the shock of 9/11. To the beckoning strains of Rimsky-Korsakov's Scheherazade, we see some typically wonderful Rosenblatt library shots of long-ago Muslims kneeling to pray, followed by '50s-era schoolkids earnestly mouthing prayers. That's all there is, and that's the only thing we need to see. Rosenblatt, maker of such revelations as The Smell of Burning Ants, Human Remains, and King of the Jews, has a way of slicing unerringly into the emotional core of his subject (all his films are about feelings and perceptions) using just the right image keyed to the perfect music.

And then there's the "We're all in this together so what do we do next?" approach. Caveh Zahedi wanted to "lower the vibrational frequency" of the 9/11 aftermath, so he asked the students in his documentary film class at the San Francisco Art Institute to go along with his touchy-feely, improvisatory way of dealing with it. One student balked -- not only balked, but rebelled, effectively hijacking the class and the film Zahedi made of it, The World is a Classroom. At first glance, it's an annoying film about annoying people. But let it sink in a while. The sly Zahedi delivers a treatise on world politics disguised as the cinema-verité record of a classroom tiff.

All the above are in Underground Zero, part one. UZ II has a slightly different feel. In a recent conversation, Rosenblatt admitted that he's worried about how well the two halves fit together. "The second part is more experimental," he says. True, but if seen on the same day in the same frame of mind, the two parts match up well. UZ II is even less Dan-Rather-ish. Mark Street's Brooklyn Promenade makes a family's day in the park, with kids bouncing on a fire truck, seem ominous merely by juxtaposing loaded motifs. Filmmaker Street writes: "I did my best to shield my kids from the events of 9/11. ... But of course the horror was percolating in them, too, despite my best efforts."

Brooklyn turns out to be one of the prime vantage points for considering the disaster. Cathy Cook constructs an interlocking series of wide-angle digital shots of her street in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, panning from the two Union Gas towers at one end to the World Trade Center towers in the distance, at the other. Back and forth, and suddenly they're not there any more. She calls her film Both Towers Have Fallen. Just as eerie is Cathy Crane and Sarah Lewison's Meal, which takes us to a Pizza Hut in Maine, the scene of terrorist Muhammad Atta's last meal. Thad Povey and the Scratch Film Junkies, perennial Fine Arts Cinema favorites, contribute Drink from the River, a murky cinematic poem of longing and nostalgia, with deep-blue-colored emulsion overlaying old newsreels and home movies, mostly about New York. "Looking for some solace after the attacks," Povey tells us in the press notes, "I remembered Lethe, the underworld's river of forgetfulness from whose waters souls are required to drink." The Underground Zero filmmakers, of course, are cursed with having to remember.

Underground Zero, aka Part One, screens eight days at the Fine Arts Cinema beginning Friday, May 10 and running through Friday, May 17. In an example of the curious brand of cobilling that has made the Fine Arts unique, it plays as a double feature with Kevin Epps' Straight Outta Hunters Point, a documentary on youth gang violence in San Francisco. The only time to see Underground Zero II at the Fine Arts is on Saturday and Sunday, May 11 and 12, when it will show at 5:30 p.m. -- before Part One. Ideally, the two parts should be shown in order. Producer/filmmaker Rosenblatt reports that HBO may be picking up the two UZs for broadcast, but in the meantime, maybe the Fine Arts can be prevailed upon to reverse the screening order on those days, in order to see one of the most important documentaries of the year in its proper sequence. Regardless, these excursions into the preoccupied national psyche are not to be missed.

©2002 East Bay Express


Underground Zero: Independent Filmmakers Respond to 9/11

By Susan Gerhard

You tired of watching channel zero in the days after Sept. 11, and so did local filmmaking powerhouses Jay Rosenblatt and Caveh Zahedi. So they sent out a proposal, asking friends and colleagues to come up with short films as quickly as they could for a program that would help us all sort through the aftermath.

The initial results are in, and the San Francisco Cinematheque presents Underground Zero this week with the first of a few series of films that unravel the monotone messages of mass media. Opening with Frazer Bradshaw's The End of Summer - which uses sunny stills of suburbia as a backdrop to a child's perspective on the attacks ("Maybe they were mad at New York?") -- Rosenblatt and Zahedi's curated program complicates the issues and the aesthetics surrounding Sept. 11. Norman Cowie's take on TV news is boiled down to science in Three Scenes from an Endless War, which - Feed-style - toys with the TV talking head, adding satiric takes on the screen crawl and the media penchant for "branding" tragedies and relentlessly reselling them.

The program shows the disturbed personal perspective with the inclusion of a personal diary piece by Anne Robertson, linking - nonconspiratorially - her cat, her garden, and 9/11 in the similarly titled My Cat, My Garden and 9/11. And it travels outside the New York-to-L.A. corridor to get geographically unusual perspectives, including China Diary (911), by Eva Ilona Brzeski, which shows a New Yorker on vacation witnessing her neighborhood crumble from the vantage point of China, and Paul Harrill's Brief Encounter with Tibetan Monks, which attempts to find answers - but only produces more questions - from a group of Tibetan monks on tour in the South. Only a few flags wave here, but one of them, in Martha Gorzycki's Unfurling, is animated by stars and stripes that are made from shifting casts of brand names and bar codes. While Zahedi's piece was still in progress at press time, Rosenblatt weighs in with one of the most powerful plays on gesture and metaphor I've ever seen, Prayer, but I won't say more: it's a puzzle best unraveled on your own. Zahedi and Rosenblatt have big plans for the project, which may eventually be shown on TV, Webcast, and displayed in an installation format, but you can get an early view of it this week.

©2002 San Francisco Bay Gaurdian


'Underground Zero' a needed catharsis It's the first film to be made, released after terrorist attack

By Mick LaSalle

UNDERGROUND ZERO: Documentary shorts. Directed by Jay Rosenblatt, Caveh Zahedi and others. (Not rated. 76 minutes.

For the past eight months, movies have existed in a peculiar limbo. Though we live in a post-Sept. 11 world, movies have not caught up. Every "new" release was, in fact, filmed before September, and that has made for some disconcerting moments in theaters: The World Trade Center appears onscreen, and for five or 10 seconds the audience forgets the movie it's watching and tries to get over the jolt of shock and grief.

Now we enter a new phase with Underground Zero, the first movie to be made and released after Sept. 11. Opening today at the Roxie Cinema (and on Friday at the Rafael Film Center and Fine Arts Cinema), it's a series of 13 short films inspired by the attacks, compiled by San Francisco filmmakers Jay Rosenblatt and Caveh Zahedi. Some are better than others, but the effect of seeing all 13 is powerful and cathartic, even necessary. It's not just that it's a good movie. I think we need it.

Think of Underground Zero as the bridge between the movies in theaters today and the movies we'll be seeing a year from now. Soon Hollywood will leave its pre-Sept. 11 state of happy oblivion and enter its other favorite state, happy denial. Underground Zero is a chance for audiences and, in a sense, for the art to take some time to breathe, to pause, acknowledge the tragedy and mourn.

It's a pause that, frankly, I've needed. Not long ago, I saw three movies in a single week that featured shots of the twin towers -- Death to Smoochy, World Traveler and Changing Lanes -- and each time felt as though wires were short-circuiting behind my eyes. There's nothing more present-tense in feeling than a brand-new movie, and so to see something irretrievably lost in such a context is more than disorienting. It feels like temporary madness. If this were only me, it wouldn't be worth mentioning, but in movie theaters I hear people all around gasping at these images -- not just gasping but sighing, almost moaning.

For years, the World Trade Center existed onscreen as a symbol of New York, as something outside time. Now we see those towers as buildings, filmed on a certain day at a certain time, with people inside them. Ten seconds of disorientation is not enough to process that change. We need at least one whole movie, and Underground Zero is that movie.

A Childs-Eye View

The picture begins with Frazer Bradshaw's The End of Summer. It's a curtain-raiser in which a little girl talks about Sept. 11 while shots of comfortable suburbia are shown onscreen.

It's followed by one of the highlight of the compilation, Robert Edwards' The Voice of the Prophet. The prophet is Rick Rescorla, the head of security for Morgan Stanley Dean Witter, a former Army colonel who was filmed in his office on the 44th floor of the trade center in July 1998.

Rescorla talks about his military record under Hal Moore of "We Were Soldiers" fame, then offers a cogent and prescient analysis of the geopolitical situation. "Hunting down terrorists," he says. "This will be the nature of war in the future." Without the opening title card, anyone would swear this was filmed after Sept. 11.

Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman are represented by Isaiah's Rap, in which their nephew Isaiah Gage stands on his TriBeCa rooftop and recites a rap inspired by the tragedy. It was filmed in November, and the hurt is still raw.

David Driver's A Strange Mourning documents a spontaneous patriotic demonstration that erupted at a Los Angeles intersection on Sept. 14, 2001. Tension in S.F. Classroom

One of the most curious entries is Zahedi's The World Is a Classroom, which documents a film class he taught at the San Francisco Art Institute in the fall of 2001. It begins pre-Sept. 11, then shows how the class processes the tragedy and later almost fragments during Zahedi's clash with a student. At first we think, why are we watching this? What does this classroom bickering have to do with the trade center attacks? Then we remember how stressed out we all were in the aftermath of Sept. 11. The World Is a Classroom is a fascinating time capsule in which we see people so out of their minds with tension they don't even know they're tense.

Rosenblatt's Prayer uses found documentary footage of people of various cultures praying. It's strange and profound and the most moving piece in the compilation.

Other films, such as China Diary (911), Eva Ilona Brzeski's account of what it was like to be in China on the fateful day, are not nearly in the same league, but they don't, in the end, detract from the experience.

See Underground Zero to feel better. See it to feel worse. See it to feel whatever it is you're going to feel. This is a thoughtful compilation and a healing experience.

©2002 San Francisco Chronicle.


Disaster Relief

Peter Bowen

In the weeks following September 11, San Francisco-based filmmakers Caveh Zahedi (I Was Possessed by God, I Don't Hate Las Vegas Anymore) and Jay Rosenblatt (King of the Jews, Human Remains) came together to find their way out of the media morass that characterized coverage of September 11.

"I felt irrelevant in the couple of weeks after 9/11," explains Zahedi. "I thought I should do something in film and I mentioned this idea to Jay." And Rosenblatt, who was experiencing a similar sense of powerlessness, thought putting together a film might prove to be a unifying experience for the two, and for the filmmaking community in general. "We thought that maybe there were others who felt the way we did, people who wanted to see some alternative to the mass media," says Rosenblatt. "Caveh and I thought that a collective action might be more powerful, so we sent out a letter to filmmakers asking for submissions. We sent out requests hoping to get 110 stories - corresponding to the 110 stories of the World Trade Center."

In the end, the response went beyond their planned scope, as they gathered nearly 180 submissions for a compilation, entitled Underground Zero. The diversity of voices was wide enough to allow them to create not one, but several overlapping compilations, each addressing different needs. They created two general tapes for theatrical exhibition, one for television, and one intended for political and community outreach. In addition to Zahedi's and Rosenblatt's films, the pieces include a wide range of contributions from such filmmakers as Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Freidman, Ira Sachs, Barbara Hammer and Pola Rapaport.

©2002 Fimmaker


Gareth Evans looks beyond patriotic responses to 9/11 to find the personal Underground Zero

Is it too far-fetched to conceive of the World Trade Center in the minutes before its collapse as an architectural equivalent of the atomic mushroom cloud? If the association feels untenable beyond a crude visual likeness, it's used primarily to suggest how images of such momentous incidents remove balance from the process of seeing. Just as the towers, when they stood, cast great shadows over Manhattan, now their absence reaches out considerably further. If perspectives questioning the US administration's take on the crisis have been publicly minimal in the States, it's surely in part because the space left by the buildings can always be thrown back in answer.

This was the difficulty facing San Francisco based experimental filmmakers Jay Rosenblatt and Caveh Zahedi when they asked 150 America independent and artist colleagues to create a short film or video responding to 9/11 and its aftermath. The call was generated both to counter a sense of impotence at what was unfolding and to offset the monotone of political propaganda with a plurality of opinions.

From the 60 works received, 13 were selected - primarily for the sense of narrative argument they developed when put together - to produce the feature-length, Underground Zero, to be shown at London's ICA in August. Emily Dickinson once advised, "Tell the truth but tell it slant", and these engaged, intriguing video diaries, essays and lyrical meditations make larger statements through a focus on detail and observation. Claiming a degree of street-level access and democracy for the moving image, they make central the communal and private in the face of governmental blustering and manipulative patriotism. Context is all: scenarios that might be merely interesting elsewhere here become charged with restorative urgency.

There's Paul Harrill looking to Buddhist monks in Tennessee for an older insight, or Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman listening to 14-year-old TriBeCa resident Isaiah rap a way out of his distress at the destruction of his neighbourhood. Eva Brzeski lived nearby too, but she reports, with disbelief, from a generally unperturbed China. Ira Sachs finds no words. His silent Untitled logs some of the hundreds of 'missing' portraits found on street posters; while the people still alive have their faces scrubbed out, those left in the pictures are the disappeared. Implicitly the chain of loss continues beyond the tape's end to incorporate all the deaths from conflict, amplifying the event without reducing its local and memorial aspects.

Rosenblatt's contemplative Prayer threads scenes from American emergency drills with 1950s film of Muslims at worship to consider mass reactions and a common humanity. Both traits feature more disturbingly in David Driver's ˆA Strange Mourning, a record of street-corner patriotism in L.A. Zahedi's video The World Is a Classroom tests the thresholds of discussion in a college environment, placing the director center stage in an increasingly heated stand-off with a student. The dispute soon begins to echo the larger conflict and in its construction of a combative reality provokes critical association with general media representation of war.

It is left to The Voice of the Prophet, Robert Edwards' 1998 interview with retired career soldier Rick Rescorla - then head of security at Morgan Stanley on the WTC's 44th floor- to bring home the complexity of the situation. In the simplest of single camera set-ups, Rescorla delivers a prescient and radical reading of contemporary geo-politics, corporate/military co-operation and the nature of coming threats, his observations given a desperate and ironic edge by what we learn of him in the closing moments.

Comparable to Far from Vietnam (1967) and Germany in Autumn (1978), Underground Zero is a compelling collective film project, a once personal and political. Serving both to protest and consider, it engages with the challenges of the times and the limits of the moving image itself, coming back with something more human, something worth saving and striving for.

©2002 Sight and Sound


Mesmerizing 'Underground' examines the aftermath of Sept. 11

By Doug Knoop

Everyone has a story to tell about Sept. 11, 2001. Ask anyone and they can tell you where they were, who they knew, what they saw. We've all seen the news footage and heard the reports. As the one-year anniversary approaches, those images are back again, on television and in print.

How refreshing then to find a more human reflection on those horrible events, and we can thank San Francisco-based filmmakers Jay Rosenblatt and Caveh Zahedi. A week after Sept. 11, they asked 150 independent filmmakers to create a short work related to the events. The result is Underground Zero, a moving and thought-provoking collection of 13 short documentaries that examine the effects of that now-significant date.

One of the most chilling of the films is "The Voice of the Prophet," an interview with retired Army Col. Rick Rescorla, who talks frankly of his gruesome Vietnam combat experience, global politics and other recent terrorist attacks. As the interview draws to a close he makes a prediction. "Hunting down terrorists: This will be the nature of war in the future." Amazingly, director Robert Edwards recorded all this in 1998, from Rescorla's office as head of security for Morgan Stanley Dean Witter, on the 44th floor of the World Trade Center.

Eva Brzesky's "China Diary (911)" is an interesting look at how the filmmaker watched events unfold in her native New York from half a world away, as she was vacationing in China with her mother. Shots of a flickering television news program, an eerily empty airport terminal and New York destruction are contrasted with Chinese locals continuing with business as usual.

The always-reliable Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman ("The Celluloid Closet" and "Common Threads: Stories from the Quilt") turn the camera on their 14-year-old nephew in "Isaiah's Rap." From his Tribeca rooftop, musician/poet Isaiah points to the hole in the New York skyline and offers up his feelings.

The most curious and memorable of the entries is Caveh Zahedi's "The World is a Classroom." Zahedi documents his film class at the San Francisco Art Institute. Things begin normally on Sept. 4, 2001, as the students discuss their plans for projects and Zahedi shares his ideas for the class. As the days progress a minor incident causes major tensions to arise between a student and Zahedi, and in turn the rest of the class. Things are eventually resolved, but not until after a few uncomfortable sessions. Initially this segment feels odd and out of place, but remember the emotional turmoil of just about everyone late last September? Zahedi has captured universal emotions in a microcosm.

The program closes with two more highly emotional pieces, "Prayer" by Jay Rosenblatt and "Untitled" by Ira Sachs. Rosenblatt interweaves images of people of various ages and religions in prayer with a haunting score, while Sachs gives us a six-minute silent montage of portraits of Sept. 11 victims, taken from fliers posted on the streets of New York City.

These two pieces bring to a mesmerizing close an outstanding program that deserves a much wider release.

Copyright © 2002 The Seattle Times Company


Dramatic films deal with 9/11, one year later

By John Petrakis

As the one-year anniversary of the destruction that rained down on Sept. 11, 2001, approaches, Chicagoans, like their counterparts across the country, will have to decide how to commemorate that tragic day.

Two of the premier art film houses in town have chosen to commemorate 9/11 by showing films that deal with the event itself and/or reactions to that day.

Underground Zero

At the same time that WTC Uncut is playing at the Film Center Wednesday night, Facets Multimedia will be screening both parts of Underground Zero, a collection of short cinematic responses to Sept. 11.

The shorts were compiled by San Francisco filmmakers Jay Rosenblatt and Caveh Zahedi, who, just a week after the plane crashes in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania, sent out over 150 requests to independent filmmakers across the country. To their amazement, they received 65 responses in a matter of months.

The 30 films that comprise both parts of Underground Zero are fascinating for the way they reveal the mind of the artist -- which aspect of the tragedy struck them which way.

Part I, for instance, contains an inventive piece called China Diary (911) by Eva Ilona Brzeski, who was in China with her mother when the attacks occurred. She ties in her discomfort at being so far from home at such a terrible time, to the distance she always felt from her grandfather, a man who helped design the World Trade Center.

Valerie Soe's Carefully Taught concerns Soe's futile attempts at understanding the political reasons behind the attacks, laid over a montage of Hollywood musicals, representing the huge impact that our culture has had on the rest of the world. For better and for worse.

And Jay Rosenblatt's Prayer, which is the most moving movie in either part, employs his familiar found-footage technique to show humble supplicants from various religions down on their knees, seeking help from a higher power.

Part II's highlights include Chel White's New York, an eerie paean to the city itself; Ashes to Ashes, a mini-documentary by Barbara Klutinis that examines the work of artist Rebecca Haseltime, whose mesmerizing art in charcoal and ash are perfectly suited for 9-11 memories; Meal, by Cathy Crane and Sarah Lewison, which focuses (both literally and figuratively) on the Pizza Hut where terrorist Muhammad Atta ate his last meal; and Unfurling by animator Martha Gorzycki, whose visual permutations on the American flag are both beautiful and revealing.

Copyright © 2002 The Chicago Tribune.