Hulu asks: ‘Is it time to examine how 9/11 happened?’

(AFP)
Updated 27 February 2018
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Hulu asks: ‘Is it time to examine how 9/11 happened?’

NEW YORK: Not too long ago, Peter Sarsgaard felt he had to have a difficult conversation with his oldest daughter about 9/11.
He and Ramona, then 9, were in a car on the anniversary of the terror attacks and the twin light beams above ground zero were switched on. The girl declared them “pretty.” That’s when her dad realized he needed to explain what they were, right then and there. She’s not alone.
“There is a whole generation of people that are in their late teens — that are 20 even, if they were 3 at the time — who I think need to start learning about this in some way,” he said.
This month, Sarsgaard is doing that, teaching on a massive scale as one of the stars of “The Looming Tower,” Hulu’s powerful look at the events that led up to the Al-Qaeda-led 2001 attacks, a series that is as much a thriller as a geo-political education.
The 10-episode minizeries, adapted from Lawrence Wright’s Pulitzer Prize-winning book of the same title, sent film crews to eight countries, including Morocco and South Africa. It signals Hulu’s deepening effort to offer complex, interesting offerings following its success with “The Handmaid’s Tale.”
“The Looming Tower” starts in 1988 and charts key figures in the CIA and FBI as they chase down clues — and often jostle each other — to uncover Osama bin Laden’s plot and stop it. The series is brutal about the missed opportunities and rivalries between the agencies and doesn’t flinch at showing violence to innocents, both at home and abroad.
“I wonder if because 17 years have past almost, whether we’re ready for it now,” said Jeff Daniels, who stars as hard-charging FBI agent John O’Neill. “Closer to the actual attack of 9/11, no one wanted to hear if there was someone to blame. We knew who to blame — it was bin Laden and Al-Qaeda.”
Sarsgaard, who plays a reptilian CIA anti-terrorism chief, knows all too well how dangerous wading into the subject of 9/11 blame can be. His wife, Maggie Gyllenhaal, created a firestorm in 2005 when she suggested that US foreign policy might have had some role in the attacks.
“The backlash was so massive — it was on CNN, it was on everywhere — we had to leave the country,” said Sarsgaard. “Presumably enough time has passed now that we can start thinking about what went wrong, right?“
Dan Futterman, the series’ show runner who wrote teleplays for the first two episodes, said the 10-hour show tries to explain without judgment what motivates the three groups — CIA, FBI and Al-Qaeda — even portraying members of the terrorist group as human beings. “That may be the worst pushback we get,” he said.
Wrenn Schmidt, who plays a workaholic and ambitious CIA analyst in a very male-centered organization, said she came out of the experience with enhanced respect for intelligence gatherers working in the shadows. But she appreciates the series’ care for balance.
“The story’s not trying to tip your favor with one person or one group,” she said. “For better or for worse, all of those people think they’re doing something right or doing something that is in service to a greater purpose.”
The filmmakers have taken some dramatic liberties, including making Sarsgaard’s character a composite of several CIA analysts. “We didn’t get a lot of access to the CIA, so in a way it was necessary to do that,” Futterman said. But Daniels’ hot-headed O’Neill is based on a real person, a man the actor calls “an unsung American hero.”
“That was a time when we had the best and brightest in government, and a fully staffed government,” said Daniels. “What’s different? What have we learned?“
Futterman said he thinks intelligence sharing is better now than it was in 2001 but divisions in government may be worse. There are many unanswered questions about the events leading up to 9/11 and he hopes the series can keep up the pressure.
“If we made it for anybody, it’s made for those people who’ve been wanting to get answers as to how this happened for a long time,” he said.


Traveling back thousands of years by reviving KSA's Al-Ula

Archaeological treasures in the northwestern region of the Kingdom are older than Saudi Arabia itself, and barely known to the world. (AFP)
Updated 22 September 2018
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Traveling back thousands of years by reviving KSA's Al-Ula

  • The RCU is joining forces with the Arab World Institute in Paris to produce a touring exhibition

JEDDAH: Bathing in the scorching sun of Saudi Arabia for the past 4,000 years and sitting among the sandy dunes of the northwestern region of the Kingdom, lie the country’s archaeological treasures. These treasures are even older than Saudi Arabia itself, and barely known to the world.
The area covers about 52 hectares of well-preserved land in which there are tombs handcrafted out of the rocks, relics from ancient civilizations such as the Greeks and the Romans, archaeological riches dating back 4,000 years and other priceless artifacts from the Ottoman Empire.
The somewhat forgotten land is going to be brought into the spotlight by the year 2020 as a historic collaboration takes place between Saudi Arabia and France.
France excels in the art of preserving history so it is the perfect alliance to meet the goals of making Al-Ula a tourist attraction.
Saudis are cooperating with France in preserving and promoting culture and archaeology.
The French consider this project so prestigious that Gerard Mestrallet, a special envoy of the president, has been appointed for Al-Ula. Both countries share a common approach to national heritage; that culture transcends all borders and should be accessible to all who seek to observe history.
The agreement was signed in the presence of Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and French President Emmanuel Macron as well as Al-Ula governor, the special envoy to Al-Ula and France’s foreign minister. Against the walls of Paris’s Musee De Arts Decoratifs — a wing of the Louvre Palace — sit the illuminated sandstones for the French to experience a sliver of Saudi Arabia’s rich heritage. The Royal Commission of Al-Ula (RCU) has signed an agreement with Campus France, described as the leading international academic and vocational public institution in France, to train young Saudi women and men to become aspiring archaeologists.
The RCU is joining forces with the Arab World Institute in Paris to produce a touring exhibition. Public transport, hotels and restaurants are also part of the plan.
More than 2,100 people applied for traineeships: 200 young Saudi men and women will be trained by the most prestigious institutes in the world; part of the 1.2 million new tourist jobs are expected to be created under Vision 2030.
Cutting-edge technologies and methods such as aerial LiDAR (light detection and ranging), scanning and photos taken from light aircraft, helicopter and drones will also be used.