Underground Zero
September 6, 2002

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


© Copyright 2002. Jay Rosenblatt and Caveh Zahedi.