Baltimore Sun

Maryland Film Festival: John Waters and 'United 93'

Guest blogger Chris Kaltenbach here:

For probably the first time, there were empty seats at The Charles Friday night for John Waters' annual pick. But no one seemed too concerned.


"I think I finally found a movie that the public wouldn't go for," a smiling Waters said before introducing Paul Greengrass' United 93, a compelling and refreshingly sure-footed dramatization of the terrorist hijacking on Sept. 11, 2001, that sent a plane filled with innocent (and ultimately heroic) passengers careening into a Pennsylvania field.

Waters referred to the film as "harrowing and amazingly made," and if anything, he understated the case. As was true when the film was released in 2006, it's probably too strong for many people's sensibilities -- people who, understandably, have no desire to relive the events of 9/11. But it's still an amazing movie. And Waters' appreciation of it was genuine -- there was no camp factor this year, no off-kilter sensibilities to be celebrated.


Baltimore native John Rothman, one of the few recognizable faces in the cast, joined Waters for the post-film discussion. Making United 93, he said, was a singular experience, unlike anything else he's done in a career spanning four decades. Rothman spoke of how much of the dialogue was improvised during rehearsals, by actors who had been given detailed dossiers on the real-life characters they were playing. He spoke of how the actors playing the terrorists wre kept apart from the rest of the cast for much of the filming. And he spoke of how Greengrass was able to obtain the co-operation of all the families whose loved ones were among the passengers and crew -- a testimony to the director's skill and to the trust he was able to estbalish with the families.

United 93 was far from an easy film to watch, but for reasons both cinematic and emotional, it was well worth the effort. It also added another wild card to the annual anticipation over what movie Waters will pick next. Until now, who knew he could be so serious and sincere?

Thanks, John and John, for an amazing, thought-provoking experience. Were you there? What was your take on the movie and the experience?

(picture of John Waters and John Rothman, following the screening, by Chris Kaltenbach)