9/11 Mysteries is a recent independent documentary film produced by Sofia Shafquat, a freelance writer and novelist. Sofia, as she prefers to be called, was born of a Pakistani father and American mother. Sofia was born in 1959 in Karachi, Pakistan. She came to the United States and attained her degree in Art and Semiotics from Brown University, with a focus on film theory and philosophy. She has published several novels over the years including the 1993 Novel The Shadow Man, and a controversial novel titled The White Magician.
Sofia’s interest in the conflict surrounding the events of September 11 sprang into action when she attended a protest conference concerning the war in Iraq, which rallied over ten-thousand people. From this, along with inspiration from essayist John Kaminsky, grew a deep thirst for answers. John Kaminsky is a well known online essayist who writes critically about the goings on in American culture and society. Since then, the now 47 year old writer and screenplay editor felt that she had what it would take to create an independent documentary film that would demonstrate and bring to light the material evidence captured by the media itself in order to argue the position of conspiracy. This self-funded project was the collective product of numerous articles, experts in physics and sciences, as well as the media’s own coverage of the event.
I had the privilege of interviewing Sofia over the phone about her film. Sofia said that she felt the need for a well made documentary that was professional and able to stand against criticism and marginalization, (Sofia Shafquat, personal interview October 29, 2006). This documentary is her first motion picture. I sort of became a filmmaker, Sofia said. After becoming knowledgeable on topics concerning various elements such as the function of the camera and media, as pointed out by videos such as Medium Cool and John Berger’s book titled Ways of Seeing, she began the arduous process of creating the film.
Concerning this film, Sofia quoted Berger saying, seeing comes before words, and that is why the camera functions, as described by Berger, as the ‘mechanical eye’ that surpasses the perspective of the grounded human ability, and contains within itself the ability to record massively complex events. This is why captured film events are called documentaries. However, Sofia offers great insight into the functioning of media within her film, and emphasizes the fact that her work is not the same as other documentary films of the times (post 20th century). Sofia feels that the use of media footage and interviews done by large reporting agencies such as CBS, NBC, etc. is relatively the same material. The order and arrangement of such material is what creates the message. An improper arrangement of footage or material is what distinguishes fiction from non-fiction. This abandonment of reality, explains Sofia, that is brought on by alternative documentaries is no different than films like Harry Potterfull of magic and fantasy. Opposing documentaries that argue against perspectives like Sofia’s utilize the same footage and the same materials; however, Sofia manages to insert the laws of physics and science into her arrangement, reminding the public of these factors giving a greater sense of credibility to her work.
Historically, this film is revealed at a time when wide public dissemination of information is on the brink of explosion. File sharing, self-broadcasting fads such as youtube.com, myspace.com, and other free informational databases are all supportive measures in this public information access system. The time for independent documentaries is here! said Sofia. The larger and more predominant filmmaking companies that have long crowded the public think-space are now experiencing fierce competition. In the years prior to and following September 11, 2001, documentary films have taken on a role termed as modern documentaries. Films that fall under this category include independent and Hollywood produced films such as Fahrenheit 9/11, March of the Penguins, Super Size Me and An Inconvenient Truth. Most of these films were produced by larger film entities, or had the backing of a major company sponsor (Documentary, 2006). Additionally, these films created revenue for profit, which according to Sofia is unethical in certain circumstances for true documentary purposes.
There also seems to be a shift in narrative forms within documentary films that are made for profit and those that are not. Film critics are said to call the larger documentary films that bring in vast amounts of money as mondo films, since they are created and written for larger audiences for informative and entertainment purposes. Documentaries that are not limited by the need to create a box office hit are said to have a more openly positional and free-form narration. This is largely due to the understanding that for a film to meet its financial quota, it needs to appeal to a larger audience compared to one that may or may not share similar positions as its viewers.
Another main form of documentary filmmaking during this period occurs when television and documentaries collide to create mockumentaries, reality television, and other depictions of life as spectacle. Written specifically for ratings and entertainment, it is a fundamental way for television networks to provide a sense of authenticity and credibility while generating a larger pool of viewers for their sponsors’ ads. This bait-type documentary form along with the Hollywood cinematic approach differs from most independent documentaries in their intentions.
9/11 Mysteries is a different form of freelance independent filmmaking in that the intent of this film is solely to inform and present evidence that may not have been considered by the general population before. 9/11 Mysteries is a film that was created using the producer’s own money along with other loans, which have yet to be paid. This film is also under free distribution, and requires no royalty fees for reproduction. Under the Free Information Act, this 90 minute film is available to the public for free online, and only requires money to pay for a hard-cover DVD, which costs $18. Often, Sofia is asked to make an appearance during a screening of her film. Companies and corporations offer to pay her for her appearance, take her out to dinner, as well as extra money for a question and answer session afterwards. She often respectfully declines such extra payments, and prefers that such offers are limited to a place to stay, food to eat, and enough time for her to arrive to the screening. When she is offered money for her appearance, she suggests making a donation to the cause instead. Her emphasis is on her work, and the information being delivered. Her main objective is to successfully deliver the information that she has to the public. What they do with this information is their choice, said Sofia. Her hope is that more and more people will follow the current avant-garde movement within the media by individuals becoming narrowcasters, as compared to broadcasters.
Narrowcasting has been a phenomenon that has grown with the advancement of the internet. Gary Stager, the editor for Curriculum Administrator, noticed the rise of this event, and wrote an article called, Every Kid a Publisher. This article speaks to the new wave of ideas and innovative productions by children in the classroom. The students within the classroom are learning the materials, creating multi-media presentations, and teaching it to their fellow students (Stager, 1999). This notion that anyone can be heard, voice their ideas, and that perspectives other than the media’s is being seen, is astronomical. Arguably, narrowcasting is the closest to freedom of speech, as guaranteed by the constitution, that this country has been in a long time.
While watching the film for the first time, I noticed certain stylistic differences visible in this documentary as compared to other documentary films pertaining to 9/11. The female orator’s voice is noticeably monotone and without emotion, as is the narrator in the French film Night and Fog. Serving the illusion of impartiality, I welcomed this method of presenting the argument without being up in arms with emotional flavoring. Although, the music did evoke emotion from the viewer as it peaked and fell with the scenes. The orator did have a child-like curiosity mood as she asked rhetorical questions of the audience, as if she wanted a real response and discussion.
Nonverbally, the style of editing within the film was intentionally overt. Scenes that were of the official story from the 9/11 Commission Report and FEMA’s report were stamped with official story at the bottom. Additionally, these clips were shown in black and white instead of color. These clips would bleed into a color seen as the science obtained by Sofia was applied. The clip or news scene would replay in color only after delivering an alternative framework to the audience in the effort to show the exact same material with a new pair of lenses. These stylistic approaches speak to the judicial and historical rhetoric pertinent to certain documentary films that ask the question, What really happened? (Nichols, 2001). By offering a different perspective, it is up to the viewer whether he or she will accept such a viewpoint or not.
The very nature of seeking the truth in events behind a situation lends itself to the expository mode of documentary. Beginning in the 1920s, expository documentaries have long been asking the world how accurate it is on its history. Dan Brown offers great insight into the concept of history itself in his best selling novel The Da Vinci Code. Brown elaborates on how history is the story of the victor, and hardly ever encompasses the story of the underdog, or loser (Brown, 2003). Once the story is written, retold, or made official, it becomes history-or rather his story. Independent films begin to counter these official stories, and prod them to really show that what is written or said is true. By having to answer or respond to the voice of the minority, the minority no longer remains the underdog, but a contestant on the game show on the world’s center stage. Economically, competition is what keeps business legitimate, fair and on its toes. The same is seen with competition where history and truth is concerned. This newly founded opposition to the status quo is beginning to shift ideological power back to the people, as it should be.
9/11 Mysteries does a wonderful job at composing its argument predominantly through use of words first, and then supports itself through the use of images and video clips. This is classical expository style. If it were done in reverse order of this, a more poetic film would be seen (Nichols, 2001). What makes this documentary so much more credible is its use of the participatory technique, utilizing personal interviews, interactions with 9/11 victims and anecdotal testimonies offered by workers within the towers. Steven Jones, Ph.D., is a large contributor to Sofia’s scientific research. A former professor of physics at Brigham Young University, as his retirement was forced during the writing of this paper, his background was in solar energy and nuclear fusion. This well respected teacher personally believes that the World Trade Center collapsed due to demolition-like explosives along with the plane crashes, which is a major premise of 9/11 Mysteries (Steven, 2006). Dr. Jones, along with 32 other academic professionals comprises S.P.I.N.E. (Scientific Panel for Investigating Nine-Eleven). Science has played a large role in giving this film its backbone. By doing this, the viewer attains the sense that this historical event has been independently investigated literally inside and out (S.P.I.N.E., 2003).
Sofia Shafquat understands the elements of documentary filmmaking, including the notion of kino-pravda. She uses the historical evidence gathered by the large media corporations as her own evidence to counter the standardized story. By doing this, she is effectively able to slay the dragon with its own fiery breath. We see that the entire concept of film-truth is turned on its own head as she re-arranges the same visual elements to re-present 9/11. Call her work crazy, call it even un-American; however, nothing can be more American than posing questions to the government and documenting the perspectives of both the majority and the minority. This is the true essence of documentaries, for all that it is representing in this case is her story instead of his.