Jennifer Gargano’s 8:46 follows a large variety of characters and story lines that take place on September 10, 2001 in the greater New York City area (which extends often into Connecticut and New Jersey). Moving swiftly from tale to tale, the film sets up a sampling of the lives that are about to be affected by the film’s final 20 minutes, taking place on September 11, 2001, when the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center occur.
While I started taking notes about the individual characters and families in 8:46, I quickly realized that that wasn’t the point of this film. While there are definitely characters and narrative arcs that pay off over the course of the short, the setup of so many characters was about establishing how different all the lives involved were, and how far-reaching the effects of the tragedy on September 11th, 2001, while simultaneously showing the importance of each individual life. I could see a film where the focus narrows in specifically on certain people, and that is certainly one way to approach the tale, but this film went for breadth and universal commonality amidst the tragedy.
Which of course has its pluses and minuses. The plus is that, by covering such a large range of different people and scenarios, the film is bound to relate to that same number of different audiences. No two people will see this film and be necessarily affected by the same moments. The minus is in the moments where you can’t relate, or the brief snippets where you don’t connect. Again, that would and could vary by person, if it happens at all.
But I don’t necessarily think that is a concern here. The film manages to convey that all lives and stories are important, whether you relate on a more specific level or not; you can’t help but relate to how normal and routine the conversations and events are as September 10th plays out. Only our own knowledge of what is to come adds the extra impact to casual conversations about catching a plane or not being late for a job interview.
At just under an hour, I think the film runs a bit long. But when the purpose of the film is to show the importance of a number of different lives and stories before playing out the tragedy we all know is coming, it’s hard to say “this storyline should be cut to move the film along.” In other words, while I think it’s a valid criticism for many a short film that expands into the fifty-plus minute range, I’ll be the first to admit that it might be missing the point to suggest it here.
8:46 is a powerful, and more importantly respectful, film about September 11th, 2001. The drama is not movie-of-the-week histrionics, but instead realistic and relevant to the tragedy that ensues. As an observer, I was moved by the tragic events all over again, as if these characters I saw were real; no doubt because, though the characters may be fictionalized, the lives touched by the event were so varied that there is no doubt that this story is, to someone somewhere, a true account.
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