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Terrorism’s Role in Modern Film

In a world where watching the news can be overwhelming, maybe heading to the movies is far more than an escape


In the period after 911, many filmmakers and audiences shunned the subject of terrorism in film. In recent years however it’s become more noticeable how 636055955513037869162211565_movieterrorism has had a huge part in modern film.

Mainer Lance Cromwell has always loved films and over the years and has participated in nearly every role possible in the film industry. He has directed a couple of short films, writes screenplays/teleplays, had a radio show commenting on movies, writes essays & articles on movies, have been a screener (watching movies to see if they get in) for a film festival, has helped decide on grant applicants for The State of Maines Arts Commission as to who gets funded, and has consulted on scripts for certain studios.

He said,  “I have loved films since I was a small kid, and they have been a huge part of my life since. I expect they will be until they plant me.”  

Perhaps his biggest connection to film is as an avid audience member. “I see a ton of films every year, love talking about them, and thinking about them,” said Cromwell.  “I avidly follow the work of my favorite directors, and am always up for checking out new work, by almost any filmmaker.”

Like many movie buffs, cinema and other entertainment give Cromwell a chance to process the complicated events of recent history as they unfold. Cromwell was born in NYC and grew up just outside the city, so like many Americans 9/11 had a big impact on his life. “I knew some people who died in the towers that day and my sister’s husband was supposed to have a meeting near the top of one of the towers that morning, but he postponed his meeting so he could take my sister to a doctor’s appointment. Close call.”

The act of terrorism on that day changed this country irrevocably and had ripple effects on every industry and lives across the country and globe. For example, Cromwell’s short film was slated to have its premiere screening at a Film Festival in Portland Maine in October of 2001. When one of the main contributors to the festival, and the magazine that sponsored it, was killed that day, they almost cancelled the festival but they decided to celebrate his life by going forward with the festival. He said, “they decided that if such an event caused people to cancel art, then the terrorists who perpetrated the attack, would have won, indeed.”

The response by the entertainment industry was illustrated most obviously in shows like Homeland, which Crombzt7tz03i0-market_maxreswell notes was partially produced by FOX. These intense scripts draw directly from 9/11 and other terrorist attacks.

Cromwell believes shows like Homeland is pretty much an advertisement for Fear. it is a good show, but it seems d
esigned to keep its watchers constantly afraid of terrorists in their midst. It makes for trigger happy, scared people.”

These works do not interest Cromwell because they are in his opinion too simplistic and aimed at getting viewers through fear mongering without ever getting at the bigger more complicated issues.

He did love The Dark Knight because it hit on more complex thinking and wider themes while still addressing Americans’ response to terrorism. “The Jokedarkknightroi_bannerr is a loose canon, not unlike ISIS, or The Taliban, and their ilk. There is almost no way to combat him, without descending to his level, and you have to go at him with a no-rules approach. Slippery slope.”

What most impressed Cromwell was that  Chris Nolan drew on some classic themes stretching throughout history to modern America. “He is about battling corruption in any form, to me. More than terrorism, in fact. Drugs, and organized crime are a problem, but the more insidious malignant presence is Corporate America… this reaches a high pitch, preachy in fact, in the follow up Dark Knight Rises… it is all about the 99% vs. the 1%.”  

He believes the best work in the entertainment industry is “fundamentally about things that are more timeless. Certain Shakespeare plays are still current, even though they are 400+ yrs old. Same with great movies…the best of the films I have seen in the last 10 years would have been made whether 9/11 happened or not, I think. They are amazing pieces of art, that are out of time, despite being made at a specific time and place.”

It is these lasting works, that have the power to allow us to reflect deeply on the themes, challenges  and issues presented by modern history. As a student of history, literature and film, even when touched directly by the events of 9/11 he was able to see that it was complicated and not succumb to hatred or fear. “I may not have been the typical outraged patriot in those days after 9/11. To quote Mark Twain, ‘loyalty to the country always, loyalty to the government when it deserves it’. I am a patriot with a small ‘p’, because I love this country, and the people in it. But I do not, for a minute think we are above reproach.”

Cromwell thinks the historical event that had the biggest effect on film was the economic collapse of 2008. “THAT absolutely changed the ways movies get made. Completely changed the funding, and made the studios and smaller production companies much much more conservative about what movies they will make. Despite that there are still Paul Thomas Anderson’s, Steve McQueen’s, Lynne Ramsay’s, Spike Joneze’s and the like. But it is way harder for them to make their movies now, than it was prior to 2008.”

Eric Petersen’s connection to film is that he loves good movies and has jobs working in the film industry in the past. He has said, “911 affected me, but not personally. 911 may have influenced my perspective on the MultiCulture of our world however.”

911 has changed movies in many ways.  Oddly the superhero franchises have exploded.  Before 911, there was never a superhero movie that topped #1 at the box office. Today it’s common for more than 1 superhero movies to be in the top 10. Some reasons are special effects, but more likely are the screenwriter’s suspension of disbelief is better supported with more realistic motives and actions from the characters.


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