There are lots of ways to find meaning in the events of 9/11. Television can convey events as they happen. A reporter can write history’s rough first draft. Historians can widen the time frame and give us context… Filmmakers have a part to play, too, and I believe that sometimes, if you look clearly and unflinchingly at a single event, you can find in its shape something much larger than the event itself – the DNA of our times… Hence a film about United 93. – Paul Greengrass
Filmmaker PAUL GREENGRASS – the compassionate and socially aware writer/director behind films that study the impact of terrorism in Northern Ireland in Bloody Sunday and Omagh, racial violence in The Murder of Stephen Lawrence and one soldier’s abandonment in Resurrected – now focuses his cameras on the day that changed the world forever.
In United 93, Greengrass creates a gripping, provocative drama that tells the story of the passengers, crew and the flight controllers who watched in dawning horror as United Airlines Flight 93 became the fourth hijacked plane on the day of the worst terrorist attacks on American soil: September 11, 2001.
The filmmaker explores the events of this day by telling the story of a single flight and the ordinary, random sampling of flight crew, businessmen, wives, grandparents, students and others bound for San Francisco aboard a Boeing 757. In the course of the just over 90 minutes that the plane was aloft, the world below entered a new and violent age – viewed through a fog that slowly dissipated to reveal that America herself was under attack.
Faced with the daunting task of re-creating the events that took place onboard the doomed plane and down below, Greengrass and his researchers called upon a myriad of sources, conducting countless hours of face-to-face interviews with the families of the 40 passengers and crew, members of the 9/11 commission, flight controllers and other military and civilian personnel who took part in the events of the day. These interviews were distilled and, along with details from flight recordings, public record and historical fact, became the basis for the film. It was then played out by an ensemble of talented, yet largely unknown actors – democratically presented as random people sharing a flight – whose fact-grounded and acutely directed improvisations provided the highly charged human drama captured by Greengrass’ cameras.
Painstakingly researched with the support of the families of the passengers and crew who lost their lives, United 93 paints an unforgettable and inspiring portrait of everyday people confronted with an unthinkable situation… who unwittingly become the first denizens in the new era of global terrorism that began that September morning.
In choosing the cast, the filmmakers sought to bring together an ensemble comprised of gifted actors (and, in some cases, real-life flight crew members, controllers and other personnel) who came armed with the talents and skills necessary to create vivid and real snapshots of the actual men and women onboard and involved with United Airlines Flight 93. All approached the subject matter with the utmost sensitivity, keeping two goals at the forefront of their minds – to dignify the memory of those they were portraying and to arrive at, as Greengrass puts it, “a believable truth” of what happened during the 91-minute flight.