A loving resurrection of the Twin Towers opens NY Film Fest

2015-09-27 12:00

New York — In the months and years after 11 September, the World Trade Center was swept out of the movies. The Towers were removed from such films as Zoolander and Serendipity that were shot before the tragedy.

Since then, the skyline where the Towers once formed the "H" in the poster for Woody Allen's Manhattan has seldom been more than glimpsed on the big screen.

But when Robert Zemeckis' The Walk opens the 53rd New York Film Festival on Saturday, New York will see the Twin Towers cinematically resurrected unlike they've been before. The film, which opens in theatres 2 October, is about high-wire artist Phillippe Petit's (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) cabled walk between the Towers in 1974.

Petit considered his stunt a love letter to the World Trade Center, which was then just being finished. And though The Walk never directly references 11 September, the film derives significant poignancy from the very large presence of Petit's monolithic co-stars.

"We should never forget. And when we remember, it's very important that we remember the tragedy," Zemeckis, the Back to the Future" and Forrest Gump director, said in a recent interview. "But I think it's also important that we remember beautiful things that happened during their existence as well."

The Walk captures the World Trade Center not merely as a background cameo, but casts them front-and-center — in a leading role and in 3-D. To recreate the skyscrapers, Zemeckis, production designer Naomi Shohan and visual effects supervisor Kevin Baillie spent months on the digital effects, models and sets that would double for the Towers.

Zemeckis had long wanted to make the film about Petit, whose exploits were memorably the subject of James Marsh's 2009 Oscar-winning documentary Man on Wire.

"He always spoke of the Towers as if they were these living, breathing accomplices of his," Zemeckis says of the Frenchman. "The idea that he did this kind of spiritual thing where he united them and put a human face on them, I thought, was a nice way, a kind of emotional way, to remember the Towers through this audacious but very beautiful and human act."

Oliver Stone's World Trade Center featured, in its first act, a digital recreation of pre-9/11 Lower Manhattan. But Stone's docudrama kept largely to the street-level perspectives of people and rescuers.

In The Walk, Zemeckis' camera swoops along the steel trusses of the 110-story facade and recreates the vertigo-inducing views atop the buildings. It's probably the most loving big-screen ode to the Towers (which weren't so beloved when first built) since the poet-tour guide Timothy Speed Levitch lied between them, gazing upward wondrously, in Bennett Miller's 1998 documentary, The Cruise.

Premiering The Walk at the New York Film Festival, Zemeckis says, was the natural fit.

"It's such a New York story," says the director. "It's the perfect venue for the movie to open."

Watch the trailer here:

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