In the forty years that giant screen films have been produced, there have been quite a few that have covered ecological or accidental disaster. But few have portrayed the maleficent results of intentional human destruction. Man-made ecological damage on a large scale has been covered in such films as Mike Slee’s Wildfire and David Douglas’ Fires of Kuwait. War is another matter. It has been incorporated gingerly into films such as Steven Judson’s Homeland and Ron Fricke’s Chronos. Most often, military matters are presented as peacetime war games, such as in Stephen Low’s Fighter Pilot: Operation Red Flag.
The subject of terrorism is even more sensitive. A few months after the events of September 11, Philadelphia’s Franklin Institute had added a preshow message to the film Lost Worlds: Life in the Balance, directed by Bayley Silleck, announcing that the presentation was dedicated to those who had lost their lives on that fateful day. The reason: the film included shots of the World Trade Center.
Many museum-based giant screen theaters have no problem running Hollywood films that showcase terrorism in a fictional or fanciful light, such as James McTeigue’s V for Vendetta or Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight, but, as far as I can recall, only one giant screen documentary has even mentioned the events of September 11 – James Cameron’s Ghosts of the Abyss.
Yesterday, the nation of Norway was under siege by what appears to be an act of domestic terrorism. In two months, on the tenth anniversary of 9/11, the world will reverently memorialize the victims of the largest act of terrorism on American soil. Three months later, the nation will remember an act that plunged it into war across two oceans – the seventieth anniversary of the bombing of Pearl Harbor.
We are at war, to varying degrees, in three countries. Many filmmakers have documented this and the impact these wars have on soldiers, civilians, and families at home. Likewise, a number of documentarians have explored the cause and effects of terrorism, both international and domestic. Films such as Tim Hetherington and Sebastian Junger’s Restrepo and James Whitaker’s Rebirth not only profile those coping with the outcome of war and terrorism, but make us reflect upon ourselves and look deep into our own souls.
One IMAX theater director told me, “They’ve filmed everything. What they need to do is take an IMAX camera onto a battleground in the middle of a war, give us something real.” He’s absolutely right. In a rapidly changing world, the giant screen community, which gives us a unique platform upon which to view or planet, should be taking a closer look at the events that affect our humanity.