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On the morning of September 11th, 2001, many NY based photographers and film makers found themselves documenting one of the most traumatic events in American history, the terrorist attack on the Twin Towers.
Miguel Coyula, an award-winning Cuban born filmmaker and writer, was one of those people. At the time, he was a student in NYC. As soon as he heard the news, Miguel didn’t hesitate and used his skills and gear to capture the scenes that unveiled before his eyes. Scenes that were mistaken by many on that day for a film on TV, rather than the news. Ironically enough, the scenes shot on that day, later made it to miguel’s film Memories of Overdevelopment.
Memories of Overdevelopment (Spanish: Memorias del Desarrollo) is a 2010 Cuban film. Written and directed by Miguel Coyula, the story is based on a novel by Edmundo Desnoes, also the author of the 1968 classic Memories of Underdevelopment. This independent film was produced by David Leitner and features Cuban actor, Ron Blair as the lead character. It is the first Cuban dramatic feature film with scenes filmed both in Cuba and the United States. After its world Premiere at the 2010 Sundance Film Festival, it went to gather several awards and honors. The International Film Guide described it as one of the best films Cuba has produced.
Sergio Garcet is an intellectual who abandons the Cuban Revolution and 'underdevelopment' behind only to find himself at odds with the ambiguities of his new life in the 'developed' world. A portrait of an alienated man, an outsider with no clear-cut politics or ideology: A stranger in a strange land struggling with old age, sexual desire and ultimately, the impossibility for the individual to belong in any society. Highly episodical, the film's narrative is a collage of flashbacks, daydreams, and hallucinations comprising live-action, animation, and newsreel footage assembled to suggest the way personal memory works, subjectively and emotionally.
How did you happen to shoot the 9-11 footage?
I was on a scholarship at the Lee Strasberg Theater Institute at the time and living at the National Arts Club, so a friend called me and I ran to 12th street and 6th Ave from where I shot the footage using a telephoto lens. Looking back now I should have photographed much more unusual images which were people still having breakfast while the towers were burning. But of course your eye goes instinctively towards more dramatic images like people hugging and crying. Later on, I got offers to sell the footage, but being an independent filmmaker I knew I could use it in a future project.
Why did you decide to include that footage in your movie Memories of Overdevelopment?
Much later I was working on my second feature Memories of Overdevelopment, which covers 50 years in the life of an exiled Cuban writer who lives in Cuba, then New York, and eventually then moves to Southern Utah. It occurred to me that the event triggering his decision to move could be linked to the feeling of uncertainty that 9/11 left in many of us who were in NY at the time. I had a problem, the footage was shot in miniDV with a Canon GL1 Camcorder while the feature film was shot with in high definition, so I needed to create the transition between the fictional narrative and the documentary footage. So I resorted to have the main character, played by Ron Blair looking at some guy recording the event. This is the opening shot from the sequence where you can also see the producer of the film David W Leitner as an extra, his friend Dan Ochiva and myself reenacting the moment with a standard definition camera. I used this camera as a transition to the documentary footage, and then use the smoke to transition back to high definition in widescreen to the back of Ron Blair´s head. The film Premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in 2010 and reminds me how important is to build your very own archive of historical footage which you can accumulate over the years and find its way into a project you cannot plan on paper at the time.
Thirteen years later, it is a given that we, who saw this event first hand, still remember it so vividly. We will never forget. The videos and photos will help to teach the next generations about this tragic event in American History.
Read more about Miguel Coyula and his work:
All images and videos were used with permission from the artist.