“Tuesday, September 11, 2001, dawned temperate and nearly cloudless in the eastern United States.”
So opens the 9/11 Commission Report, a document of over 400 pages written in response to the terrorist attacks against the United States on September 11, 2001. This document is an official chronicle of the events; the impact of 9/11, however, was far more vast than a single work could contain. Millions of people around the world watched the events live. Although 9/11 occurred on American soil, it was a distinctly global happening.
Many of the popular artistic responses to 9/11 have been American productions. Welsh writer, actor, and producer Matt Hookings, however, decided to take an alternative approach. RIIFF got the chance to interview him about his latest short, “Then and Now,” an official selection at this year’s festival.
Directed by Kyle and Liam Bashford, and starring veteran actor Julian Glover (of Indiana Jones and James Bond fame), “Then and Now” features an elderly British man who watches the attacks unfold on-screen. The audience follows him on his psychological journey through the event, eventually realizing that he is far closer to the tragedy than we initially expected.
Hookings has been compelled by the reactions to 9/11 for years. Although he is not directly connected to the events, for him they still hold a strong emotional resonance: “When it happened, it was really disturbing. Everyone remembers where they were. But a few years later, I became fascinated by it—I was fascinated with videos, I was fascinated with what happened, with how people reacted.”
Hookings chose to connect to these emotions through the lens of personal tragedy. He drew from memories of his own relationship with his grandmother. “I never went and saw my Nana as much as I should have when she was alive,” he said. “My uncle used to go over every week and bring her shopping. And that would be it—just bringing her shopping. But that would be enough for her to see him and him to see her.”
Hookings evokes this feeling of loneliness through an opening montage of George’s daily routine, which gives the impression of an exhaustingly mundane life that highlights the contrasting horror of the attacks. “My nan would get up and be very normal, make a cup of tea or have a cup of coffee, and sit in front of the TV. And all of a sudden her mood would change and she would be so miserable,” Hookings said. “The film is about 9/11, but it’s also about the process of losing someone.”
One of the most formidable aspects of making the film was creating a compelling piece with only one character, who essentially spends the film talking to himself and the TV. Hookings praises Glover for making it work. “The performance was amazing. It was that frustration, that anger, that emotion, it was all of that feeling of ‘why.’ It’s what everyone wants to say.”
The script of “Then and Now” went through many iterations, at one point including montages of different families around the world. “It read so well on paper, and in the script it was beautiful, because now we’re making it universal,” he said. He also considered a more political montage, showing 9/11’s impact on the world up until today. “It hinted at the aspects of 9/11 that were terrible, but also reminded us that the result—war and killing all these people—just wasn’t right.” These sequences were removed because Hookings was concerned that they gave the film too much of a documentary feel.
Although the majority of “Then and Now” is appropriately dark, it was important to Hookings to end on a lighter note. In the last minutes of the film, he introduces George’s grandson (played by Hookings himself) who helps his grandfather deal with his grief. “I know a lot of people that when they lose someone, they go absolutely into turmoil. They break down, and they’re either like that for a very long time or they never get over it,” he said. “I think there comes a point where you have to look at losing someone, and you have to go ‘okay.’ There’s got to be an element of moving on.”