Eight years after the attacks of September 11, 2001, a group of people who call themselves “truthers”—those who insist that the American government’s version of that day’s events is a lie—will gather at Oakland’s Grand Lake Theater Wednesday and Thursday for a film festival.
For the last five years, the Northern California 9/11 Truth Alliance, an organization that seeks to further people’s understanding about the September 11, 2001 attacks, has sponsored the festival, which brings together filmmakers, speakers and other activists who share the belief that the government has impeded the truth about 9/11 from being shared.
“At this time of year, people are more apt to be reflective or thinking about our issue and open to deepening their understanding of an event that has had such a huge impact upon our lives, our country and the world,” said Carol Brouillet, spokesperson for the alliance. Last year’s festival, which serves as a fundraiser for the organization, raised nearly $5,000.
Among the most anticipated festival films is the world premiere Loose Change 9/11: An American Coup, the fourth film in a series by Dylan Avery. Dubbed “the first Internet blockbuster” by Vanity Fair in August 2006, the Loose Change series of films question the government’s account of the 9/11 attacks. They have been viewed by over 30 million people on YouTube. Avery’s latest version analyzes the American government’s actions in the aftermath of the September 11 attacks. Avery will introduce the film and host a question and answer session immediately afterward.
Part or all of nine films will be shown over two days. Speakers, artists and music videos will round out the festival. The festival will bring together people from around the world who were deeply moved by the September 11 attacks, and who continue to push for a further investigation into what happened at Ground Zero.
Oakland North spoke with three of them.
On the morning of September 11, 2001, Allen Michaan, president of Renaissance Rialto, Inc., the company that runs the Grand Lake Theater, was stranded in Los Angeles. It became clear to him that the flight he and his then-wife was scheduled to take back to the Bay Area that day would not be departing. He was staring at a television screen in a car rental agency, waiting for a vehicle he could drive back to the Bay Area, as he watched Tower Two fall. “I said to myself, ‘Something’s wrong here,’” Michaan said. “Buildings don’t fall like that from fire.”
Michaan has run the Grand Lake Theater since 1980, but didn’t consider himself politically involved in politics until after the Supreme Court ruled in Bush vs. Gore in 2000. “I got involved in politics because I saw our freedoms siphoned away by the Supreme Court coup d’état of 2000,” said Michaan. “I became horrified by the things the illegitimate government was doing.”
The Grand Lake Theater has become famous in Oakland for its politically-themed marquee messages, which Michaan began posting after the 2000 election ruling. Famous examples include “This is America, every vote should be counted” and, simply, “Imagine.” Sometimes, his concerns are more local: He currently has a sign on his marquee urging people to attend the September 22 Oakland City Council meeting to protest the new parking meter ordinance that was passed by the city in July. Over the years, the theater has also hosted events for groups who opposed the Bush administration or were fighting for issues like election integrity.
Michaan was approached five years ago by Brouillet to host the first film festival. “I said, ‘Absolutely,’” Michaan said. “I always thought the truth would break through and the Bush administration would end. But the truth has been obstructed.”
In the months that followed 9/11, Michaan began following the online debate about what happened on September 11 on sites like as 911Truth.org and BuzzFlash.com and became convinced that the Bush administration was keeping a proper investigation from occurring. Michaan cites the delayed call for an investigation by the government and the omission of the collapse of Building Seven from the 9/11 Commission’s report as evidence of obstruction. “If this was the work of al-Qaida, why were they trying so hard to hide the investigation? To me, that implies culpability of some sort,” Michaan said.
Michaan said it’s important to host the festival even though he will lose money this week. “Between not showing regular movies and handing out free popcorn, it costs me roughly $1,500 to do this over the two days,” Michaan said. The festival will take place in the theater’s main 620-seat auditorium; other films will be shown as scheduled in the surrounding auditoriums.
Michaan’s criticism of the government has not diminished with the arrival of the Obama administration. “I am disappointed in the current administration in that they have not prosecuted the previous administration and they have not made efforts into shining light on what happened on 9/11,” Michaan said. “If there’s any way [the film festival] does undermine them in light of what they have failed to do, they deserve to be undermined.”
Investigative journalist, author and filmmaker Eric Nadler left Newark airport at 12:15 a.m. on Tuesday, September 11, 2001 bound for Copenhagen, Denmark. “Of course, I didn’t know what happened until I got to my hotel hours later,” he said.
A native New Yorker, Nadler describes himself as an independent progressive. Before 9/11, Nadler held several news reporting positions, including serving as a staff writer for Soho News, as a senior editor for Penthouse magazine and an investigative editor for the PBS newsmagazine South Africa Now. He was traveling to Denmark on September 11th to discuss Confessions, a program he co-created and co-produced for Court TV, at a television and film festival.
Nadler recalled an incident he said had happened in the Newark airport the evening of September 10, 2001, and that stuck with him later, after he learned of the attacks. He gave his ticket to an airline official and walked through the jet way to board his plane. “Halfway through [the] jet way there was a uniformed person, perhaps someone from customs or the FAA, and a man in plain clothes asking to see everyone’s passport,” Nadler said. “My passport was stamped from Pakistan, where I had been a few years earlier on assignment for Rolling Stone magazine. These people began asking me my profession, why I was there, how long I was there, where I had been subsequently. They let me go forward and I thought nothing of it.
“The next day in Copenhagen, I watched the coverage closely, and over the years I’ve come to believe based on that experience that the government knew something was up,” he continued. “From that day on I thought there was some foreknowledge regarding the attacks that the government hasn’t explained.”
Nadler had been editing Stealing the Fire, a film investigating the nuclear aspect of weapons of mass destruction, when 9/11 occurred. Once he finished with that film, he began researching Anthrax War, which focuses on the biological attacks that followed 9/11. The film will make its west Coast debut Thursday night at the festival.
“The film examines the official story concerning the attacks and critiques the FBI investigation, but then goes on to look more closely at this shadowy underworld of germ warfare,” Nadler said. The 86-minute film then explores a series of mysterious deaths of leading scientists around the globe who worked with anthrax and concludes with what Nadler calls the “real legacy” of the attacks – the boom of the United States’ biodefense efforts. “Since the anthrax attacks, $57 billion has been budgeted by the government for biodefense work—a large portion of that going to private labs and corporations,” Nadler said. “What’s most dangerous is that the actual work of so-called ‘biodefense’ is almost indistinguishable from research and development necessary for an offensive bioweapons program.”
Nadler said he was compelled to look into the anthrax attacks because of the “one-two punch” they delivered to the country after the events of 9/11. “I think anthrax helped to set the public mood of terror and fear toward many respects — the anthrax attacks were even scarier than 9/11 the anthrax came in the mail,” Nadler said. “Anyone could have been a target.”
Anthrax War will be shown at 5:50 p.m. on Thursday evening.
Janette MacKinlay’s morning began as usual on September 11 — she was checking her email at her Liberty Street apartment across the street from World Trade Center Building Four. That was when she felt the impact of a crash into Tower One. She turned her head toward the window and saw flames shooting upward as people streamed out of Building Four. “It felt like an earthquake,” MacKinlay said.
MacKinlay, an artist who studied at the California College of Arts and Crafts, had lived in Oakland for 25 years before moving to New York in September 1997 with her boyfriend to curate an art show for three months. Four years later, they were still living in their studio apartment across the street from the World Trade Center complex.
Her boyfriend Jim Leece stood on the balcony of their apartment and photographed the scene while she prepared an evacuation bag of important documents—her lease, her checkbook, her banking statements. “I started busying myself packing and cleaning,” MacKinlay said. “I was holding onto normalcy. The danger was over there. I didn’t want to overreact.”
MacKinlay debated leaving her apartment right away, but at first she and Leece decided to stay indoors to avoid the crowds in the street. “Jim was fascinated, watching people coming out of the building,” MacKinlay said. “When I talked about leaving, he said, ‘Don’t you realize we’re watching history?’”
MacKinlay turned to art that morning, she said, as she had done throughout her entire life. A certified teacher of Ikebana, a Japanese form of flower arrangement that involves using flowers and organic materials, she was putting flowers in water and cleaning her apartment when Leece saw Tower Two, which stood adjacent to W.T.C. Building Four, begin to fall.
“Jim ran across the apartment screaming to get out, that the towers were coming down,” MacKinlay said. “We made it to the front door. We had to hold each other to stand up because the shockwaves were so strong.” Their window shattered due to the impact of the crash, filling the apartment with the large cloud of dust and debris that barreled by the building.
Leaving their building with wet towels wrapped around their faces to help them breathe, the two walked south in ankle-deep dust and debris, seeing no one for blocks. “Finally, we saw firemen, so we knew we weren’t the only two people who were still alive,” MacKinlay said.
A policeman ushered the two into the basement of a TGI Friday’s three blocks away from the World Trade Center complex because he feared the other tower would fall, too. “I was terrified because I hadn’t actually seen the first tower fall,” MacKinlay said. “I imagined it would fall over on its side and would start a bigger fire over lower Manhattan.” They spent an hour in the basement with a group of twenty other people before they were allowed to evacuate. Instead of heading to Staten Island or to Brooklyn, which were the recommended evacuation routes, they went first to their apartment, which was filled with dust and debris, to collect their evacuation bags and some personal belongings. They then went to a friend’s apartment four blocks east of the WTC complex. They stayed there until 5:20 p.m. when W.T.C. Building Seven fell and the electricity went out in Lower Manhattan.
Their apartment ruined from the debris of Tower Two, MacKinlay spent the next five weeks moving from place to place—to a friend’s apartment in the Meatpacking district on the Upper West Side, to Leece’s relatives in Pennsylvania, to a hotel room the Red Cross provided—as she slowly collected her belongings that weren’t looted from the Liberty Street apartment. Ultimately, she decided to move back to Oakland.
“It was depressing to stay in New York,” MacKinlay said. “My children and friends out here wanted me to come back. I settled in and tried to recover from post-traumatic stress disorder.” MacKinlay says she felt feelings of deep detachment and depression after the attacks.
Ikebana proved to be a healing force for her. “My Ikebana class was the one thing that made me happy,” she said. “The flowers were my friends. I was able to use my creative spirit to express through art things that were beyond words.”
Beginning with a memorial for the six-month anniversary of the attacks, MacKinlay has created numerous sculptural works that deal with the 9/11 attacks or focus on her post-traumatic stress disorder. Constructed pieces entitled “Living Hell,” which depicts the two towers in deep maroon and orange flames, and “Shockwave,” a simple neon green, yellow and orange structure that shows how MacKinlay felt when Tower Two fell, are among the many displayed in her home. She will display a new Ikebana piece entitled “Wake Up Call” on the stage at the film festival this Wednesday. Calling it the most elaborate and largest piece she has ever done, MacKinlay said the purpose of the piece is to force people “to pay attention to foreign policy and to pay attention to what their government is doing.”
MacKinlay sees the 9/11 attacks as a turning point in her life. “I’m a better person now than I was before 9/11,” she said. “I can see now what I’m about and I’m able to stand up as a patriot in the way I’ve educated myself and am educating others.”
She currently serves on the executive council of the New York City Coalition for Accountability Now, an organization committed to bringing about an independent investigation into the September 11, 2001 attacks.
The festival begins at 6 p.m. Wednesday evening and resumes Thursday afternoon at 12 p.m. Tickets for each day are $10 and can be purchased at the Grand Lake Theater. A full schedule of events, as well as clips of featured films, is provided online.