Volume 20 Issue 17 | September 7 - 13, 2007

Mel Chin / Courtesy Creative Time

A scene from Mel Chin’s “9-11/9-11,” which premieres at a fully-booked screening Tuesday at Tribeca Cinemas.

A tale of two cities

By Kelly Kingman

Mel Chin’s first animated film, “9-11/9-11,” is a politically charged love story and cautionary tale set simultaneously in New York City in 2001 and in the Santiago, Chile of 1973. Chin is a Houston-born conceptual artist who abandoned traditional object making in the early nineties for more activist and site-specific projects. His latest work will premiere at a fully-booked, free screening on September 11 at Tribeca Cinemas as part of Creative Time’s ongoing commemoration of the 2001 attacks.

On September 11th 1973, Chilean president Salvador Allende died in a military coup that brought General Augusto Pinochet to power, installing a violent dictatorship that lasted nearly two decades. The United States’ support of Allende’s overthrow was uncovered in the nineties, thanks to documents declassified during the Clinton administration, though the CIA’s exact actions remain controversial. Chin’s film weaves two impressionistic narratives of these political events through the lives of a few individuals. Salvador, named for the deceased president, leaves Santiago for opportunities in the United States and becomes involved with an anarchist Windows on the World waiter. Through the memories of Mike Smith, ex-CIA agent, we learn that his role in certain “black ops” brought about the bombing of the Chilean presidential palace and has very personal ramifications for him seventeen years later.

The story is rendered in a linear, crosshatched style of animation, the work of Chilean animators with whom Chin collaborated to bring his story, originally a graphic novella he penned, to the screen. The two worlds flow back and forth, hinging graphically on images like a ring of keys, clock faces and coins. The stories blur in places, leaving the viewer unsure of exact relationships and sequences. What is completely clear, as the missiles fired into the palace in Santiago mirror planes crashing into the World Trade Center towers, is Chin’s indictment of politically-driven violence and its cyclical nature. The victims are innocent, both the people of Chile who endured years of injustice under Pinochet, as well as the victims in the Twin Towers that day. Chin takes the ground-shaking events of these respective eras and distills them into a handful of individuals — a father, a daughter, mother and son — separated by ideologies, time and continents, but inextricably linked.

The style of the animation was intended to echo Spanish master Francisco Goya, specifically his print series Los Desastres de la Guerra (The Disasters of War of 1810-1815). “I wanted to show the hand of the Chilean artists in response to the story that Henry Kissinger warned President Nixon that ‘the hand’ of the U.S. must remain ‘well hidden’ in the 1973 U.S.-supported military coup in Chile,” states Chin. The voice talent includes American actress Lili Taylor and several well-known Chilean actors such as “Palta” Melendez, Sandro Larenas, and Rosario Zamora. In keeping with its dual narratives, the film will be simultaneously screened in Santiago, and audience members in Chile will participate in the question and answer with Chin via a satellite video conference. Seats are booked at the Tuesday screening at Tribeca Cinemas, but there is a possibility of future screenings elsewhere. Check for updates.

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