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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Saturday, September 9, 2006

Kona filmmaker defends 'Path to 9/11'

By Michael Tsai
Advertiser Staff Writer

Kona-born filmmaker David Cunningham’s two-part docudrama “The Path to 9/11” dramatizes findings of the 9/11 Commission.


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Harvey Keitel plays an FBI counterterrorism expert in "The Path to 9/11." The two-part film, a dramatization of the events detailed in the 9/11 Commission Report, has been criticized for being political and inaccurate.


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Kona-born filmmaker David Cunningham admits he was taken aback by the onslaught of criticism directed at his latest project, "The Path to 9/11."

The two-part, five-hour docudrama, based on the 9/11 Commission Report, is scheduled to air tomorrow and Monday on KITV-4. Check listings to be sure the show survives the controversy.

Based on pre-screenings of the movie's first three hours, covering the pre-attack period from 1993 to 2000, some viewers concluded the project was a conservative Republican critique of the Clinton administration.

The film's executive producer, Marc Platt, responded that many of the film's most vocal critics haven't yet seen it.

"I'm not sure that what they think is there, is there," he told The Associated Press yesterday by phone from London.

Platt called the growing uproar "a distraction in some ways from the bigger intentions (of the film), which is a shame. And that's quite frankly what the whole 9/11 story is about."

Stressing that the miniseries is a docudrama, Platt said "elements and issues that are outside the boundaries of what we believe to be fair and reasonable will be addressed" until airtime. "I hope people will watch the film and draw their own conclusions."

The Clinton Foundation called the docudrama "factually and incontrovertibly inaccurate."

However, 9/11 Commission co-chairman Tom Kean defended the miniseries.

"It's something the American people should see," he said yesterday in an interview on ABC's "Good Morning America." "Because you understand how these people wanted to do us harm, developed this plot, and how the machinations of the American government under two administrations not only failed to stop them, but even failed to slow them down."

Variety reported that some scenes were trimmed in response to criticism. Without naming sources, the entertainment publication also reported that ABC executives discussed pulling the show.

Cunningham, back home on the Big Island last week, said reactions might have been different if critics had seen the entire program.

"What is important to understand is that the filmmakers who worked on this represent a wide range of political perspectives," he said. "We were in no way trying to put a slant on either the Clinton or Bush administrations. There was no agenda other than to show the facts and try to learn from what happened and did not happen, so we can be safer as a nation."

To Cunningham, political rhetoric and finger-pointing only obscure the lessons offered by the 9/11 Commission Report.

"The names are not important," he said. "It's the machine that needs to be addressed. We need a massive paradigm shift."

"The Path to 9/11" was a major undertaking for the Konawaena High School graduate, whose previous work includes "Beyond Paradise" and "To End All Wars." Armed with a $40 million budget, Cunningham oversaw a project that would take a year and a half to complete and involved nearly 250 actors, a thousand extras, and 300 different sets in the U.S., Canada and Morocco.

Cunningham said the final product was "double- and triple-checked" by a team of lawyers for Disney, the parent corporation of ABC.

"It wasn't easy under those kinds of circumstances," he said. "But the goal was to make the facts of the commission's report accessible to everyone."

The cast includes Harvey Keitel as FBI agent John O'Neill, with Michael Benyaer ("24"), Patricia Heaton ("Everybody Loves Raymond"), Frank John Hughes ("Without a Trace"), Amy Madigan ("Carnivale") and others.

To create a harshly realistic look, Cunningham used four handheld cameras to simultaneously shoot every scene, with cameramen doubling as extras.

The program provides a dramatized inside look at the CIA, the FBI and the White House before and after the attacks, follows the international manhunt for bomber Ramzi Yousef, and documents frustrated attempts by unheralded government workers to prevent the tragedy.

"There was a good deal of working people whose names a lot of people don't know, and who fought to protect our nation on a daily basis," Cunningham said. "But they didn't have the tools they needed to fight. The CIA and the FBI had their lines drawn, and so did other organizations. But these people just wanted to do their jobs."

Cunningham said the program also attempts to give Americans more insight into the Middle East.

"We wanted to provide a depth of understanding about where these terrorists were coming from and not just portray them as buffoons," he said. "We didn't in any way glorify what they were doing, but we did want to give people a better understanding of Middle Eastern culture and perspectives."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Reach Michael Tsai at mtsai@honoluluadvertiser.com.