Moyers in Conversation

Review by Michael Jacobson

Host:  Bill Moyers
Directors:  Bob Morris, Wayne Palmer
Audio:  Dolby Digital Stereo
Video:  Full Frame 1.33:1
Studio:  Docurama
Features:  Moyers Bio, Listing of Key 9/11 Charities
Length:  121 Minutes
Release Date:  January 8, 2002

Program **1/2

What can a guy like me say about September 11, 2001 that hasn’t already been said?  Time itself seemed to come to a rest as we watched with horror and tears as New York City’s famed twin towers collapsed into rubble, taking with them thousands of innocent lives and a precious illusion of security we held dear to our hearts ever since the second World War came to a close.  A sense of security that managed to survive Korea, Vietnam, the Cold War, the Gulf War, and more, but will never again be the same.

As the events unfolded before our eyes, I couldn’t help but think of my generation’s unique place in history now.  Much like my friends and I asked our grandparents about Pearl Harbor, or inquired of our parents where they were when Kennedy was shot, I realized that one day, our kids and our grandkids would turn to us and ask us about the day the twin towers fell.

It is with that kind of historical perspective, I think, that causes me to judge The 11th of September a little harshly.  This compilation of eight interviews conducted by Bill Moyers for his “Moyers in Conversation” series for public television features good guests and plenty of thoughts, opinions and information beginning just about 36 hours after the attack took place. 

Individually, these interviews are good.  Put them together in a single program, however, and you have the rare case of the sum being less than the value of the parts.  The events of that tragic day are too great in scope to be reduced to two hours of talking heads that isn’t set up by any footage or data about 9-11.  In other words, this isn’t something you’ll be able to show to your kids or grandkids years from now for any kind of lesson or perspective about the attacks on New York, Washington and Pennsylvania.

Moyer’s guests include American spiritual leaders and experts, like Columbia University professor Andrew Delbanco and Dr. James Forbes, Senior Minister of the Riverside Church of the City in New York.  There are also advisors on Islam who share their thoughts on the terrorists’ actions, such as Dr. Farid Esack and Tamim Ansary, the man who wrote the “email heard round the world” comparing the Taliban to the Nazis and the Afghan people to the Jews in concentration camps.  There are interviews with two entertainers, choreographer Bill T. Jones and director/designer Julie Taymor, and the political and religious experts from Harvard, Diana Eck and Robert Jay Lifton.

For my money, the interviews with the Islamic experts are the most interesting.  Mr. Ansary talks about the narrow vision of the Taliban, turning the religion into a political machine that NEEDS a defined, external enemy in order to work.  Dr. Esack talks about the views other countries hold of America and why.  The spiritual opinions overall offer a bit of food for thought, especially in a scenario where every side is accusing the other of being the evil one.

But two straight hours of public television one-on-one dialogue is a little much, and runs the danger of the audience losing sight of the gems as it all runs together.  The talk is thoughtful and intelligent, but lacking in passion, and keeping emotions distant.  Overall, it’s just not indicative of what I would want to see from a DVD commemorating our all-too-recent day of infamy.

Despite some good dialogue, The 11th of September will probably hold no historical or cultural significance in connection with the day it depicts.  I’m sure future documentaries will bring us much closer to the heart of our national tragedy, and not just the mind of it.

Video **

These PBS programs are shot on video, with simple sets and lighting…not exactly a cinematographer’s dream come true.  I’d feel silly if I complained that images were soft and detail a bit lacking, even down to the apparel the guests are wearing…who’s really looking?  All in all, it serves the subject matter fine, but doesn’t venture beyond that.

Audio **

It’s all dialogue, and the dialogue renders fine…there’s not much else to talk about.

Features *

The disc contains a bio for Bill Moyers, plus a listing of key charities assisting victims of September 11.


The 11th of September has interesting and thoughtful moments, but I think history will proclaim it far too sterile and uninvolving to be a program that really commemorates one of our country’s darkest days.