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Last Updated: Friday, 22 April, 2005, 11:06 GMT 12:06 UK
Aftermath of 9/11 gets film focus
By Manoush Zomorodi
BBC News reporter in New York

Maggie Gyllenhaal in The Great New Wonderful
Donnie Darko's Maggie Gyllenhaal stars in The Great New Wonderful
The Tribeca Film Festival was founded in the aftermath of 11 September 2001 to bring vibrancy and money back to this hard-hit Manhattan neighbourhood. So it's only fitting that a film about the terror attacks debuts there.

The Great New Wonderful is the first in a slew of movies that deal with the terrorist attacks of 11 September 2001, but director Danny Leiner's approach to the tragedy is subtle.

Set in September 2002, the film's ensemble cast includes "indie" actress Maggie Gyllenhaal and Oscar winner Olympia Dukakis.

The Great New Wonderful focuses on the lives of five repressed New Yorkers who are all in denial as to how 11 September has affected their lives.

Cathartic moments

"As the movie goes forward, we see cracks in the psyche of each of these characters and it slowly evolves, like a slow burn," says director Danny Leiner.

"By the end of the movie calamitous things happen to each of the characters, cathartic moments for them that change their lives."

The Great New Wonderful director Danny Leiner
We really didn't want to make a film that was about 9/11 - I really was much more interested in the aftermath
Director Danny Leiner
Some would say catharsis is an unusual subject for Danny Leiner. In addition to directing television sitcoms, he has made two low-brow comedies: Dude, Where's My Car? and Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle.

Leiner says he wanted to prove he could make a serious film with The Great New Wonderful.

He also wanted to return to his native New York and as he and screenwriter Sam Catlin worked on their project during the spring of 2002, they realised they needed to deal with the subject of 11 September head-on.

"For us, as we were thinking about New York and we wanted to do this collage of New York and characters, we couldn't avoid thinking about 9/11 because it was everywhere," he says. "It was unavoidable at that time."

Competing projects

Danny Leiner isn't the only film-maker ready to tackle the subject of 11 September.

Columbia Pictures is working on a screen adaptation of 102 Minutes, the book written by two New York Times reporters about the final moments of those trapped in the World Trade towers.

Two American television networks are also competing to be the first to complete a mini-series based on the independent report written by the 9/11 Commission.

The Great New Wonderful
The film follows characters from a boutique baker to a diplomat's bodyguard
It is unclear how graphic these projects will be in their portrayal of the events on 11 September but they will certainly be set on that tragic day, rather than one year later as in The Great New Wonderful.

These big budget productions may be more willing to depict the actual events of 11 September than Danny Leiner.

Leiner says he wanted The Great New Wonderful to be restrained rather than shocking. Although his film deals with one of the biggest events in America's history, it focuses on everyday life.

Independent spirit

"We really didn't want to make a film that was about 9/11, what actually happened. I really was much more interested in the aftermath, and how people dealt with it emotionally," he says.

"I wasn't interested in doing something about the towers coming down. Just for me, that wasn't something at the time I would want to or felt was the right time to do."

The Great New Wonderful does not have a distributor yet and it is unclear how it will appeal to filmgoers beyond those in New York.

Danny Leiner admits that his film is very independent in spirit, tone and budget and therefore doesn't lend itself to huge commercial marketing.

But Leiner says he hopes that even if the aspect of 11 September were removed from The Great New Wonderful, it could still stand as a moving and thought-provoking film.

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