In September 12th, two musicians bond on the road after being stranded in the days following the September 11 terrorist attacks. Director David Heinz talked about working with musicians-turned-actors and American togetherness.
The road trip is such a quintessential American cinematic story. What made it the right format to tell this post-9/11 tale?
When the FAA grounded flights on 9/11, thousands of people were stranded all over the country. And I think the first instinct for many of those people was to get home as soon as possible, in any way possible. So there are countless stories of strangers jumping in rental cars or big buses together and driving across the country in the days after September 11th. In fact, I interviewed a number of them while writing the script, and I was really amazed by their stories about the kindness of strangers and the generosity of the country at that time. So it seemed like a subject worth exploring in a film. It’s a feel-good story rooted in truth, and I just don’t think we see enough of those types of films these days.
Much of the movie was built around the music of Joe Purdy and Amber Rubarth. How did the filmmaking and songwriting coincide? How was the script shaped by their music? What was it like working with them as actors?
Neither Joe nor Amber had ever acted before, but honestly, I never had any concerns about that. Musicians are natural performers and folk singers are natural storytellers, so to me it was a natural fit. And once they were on board, I really embraced them as equal collaborators in the process. We talked and rehearsed extensively and I rewrote much of the script based on those discussions and rehearsals. So by the time we hit the road, we were all on the same page for sure, both with the story and with all the songs. And to answer your second question, I have to say it was absolutely amazing working with them as actors. I was so blown away by their talents and their willingness to dive right in and really give themselves over to the process. I think audiences who may not know them as musicians will have no clue this is Joe and Amber’s first film. In fact, I think they both have the talent to continue acting if they wanted to.
How does this work feel to you now, in the wake of the recent election? What aspects of America does it speak to, to you?
In some ways the country seems more divided now than ever before. Well, at least in my lifetime, I guess. And I think it’s really easy in these moments to look at our country or the world in an “us vs. them” sort of way, or “us and them.” As in, “How could they vote for him” or “how could they vote for her”? And I think there’s real danger in that. I’m not sure that way of thinking is going to help bring us any closer together. It seems to me that in reality, there is no them. It’s all us. And there are these certain moments in time or in history when that becomes crystal clear. I think the days after 9/11 was one of those times. We were all in shock, in mourning, suddenly we all seemed totally vulnerable. And we all felt it. All Americans and probably people all over the world. And in that vulnerability came an openness to one another. And in that moment of openness it really felt like we were all in this together. It didn’t really matter what differences we had because in that moment what we had in common was much more powerful. And I think our film serves as a reminder of that. So with the divisiveness we’re all feeling right now, I think the film may be as timely as ever. It seems like the country needs a reminder of what it felt like to be all in this together.