Judge Geoffrey Miller isn't quite convinced that this documentary has all the answers, but at least it didn't go down a purposefully deceptive path.
"We do not know the whole story of what happened on September 11th at all."—Lorie Van Auken, "Jersey Girl"
When a movie about 9/11 is subtitled Press for Truth, I prepare myself for the worst. We've all seen the Flash animations and extended essays; we all have a friend eager to "educate" us on "what really happened." The reality is that, while we may never know the complete truth of what happened that day, the conspiracies that lurk in the recesses of alternative and underground media hold about as much weight as an Elvis sighting. Anyone who says otherwise has an overactive imagination.
Press for Truth starts off, simply enough, with the grief of four 9/11 widows. Brought together by their common desire to ask questions about what and why the attacks happened, these New Jersey housewives banded together and dubbed themselves the "Jersey Girls." Much of the film follows their research and subsequent advocacy, culminating in their testimony to the 9/11 Commission—and subsequent criticism of the commission's findings.
The story of the Jersey Girls is powerful stuff. Before the attacks they were simply middle class suburban housewives with husbands who worked in the city. Their transformation into aggrieved activists fighting for answers is stunning and dramatic. Their efforts are primarily focused on getting the government to launch a formal investigation, which is then fulfilled with the formation of the 9/11 Commission. But when there are still questions left unanswered, the Jersey Girls and other victims' relatives are outraged and demand a new investigation be conducted.
Press for Truth attempts to address these lingering questions in its final third, and this is where it falters, veering off track into subjects only tangentially related to 9/11 and unfounded conspiracy theories. A detour into critiquing America's shortcomings in the war on terror that followed 9/11—in particular the failure to capture Osama Bin-Laden when he was cornered in Tora Bora—is completely unnecessary. While the conclusions it makes are valid, it simply isn't germane to the topic at hand. There's more than enough material for a documentary about 9/11 without getting into America's post-9/11 foreign policy (a subject that could fill quite a few hours of time in and of itself).
What follows that, however, delves into territory usually staked out by poorly designed Web sites maintained by paranoiacs. The film advances a theory that Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh, allegedly one of the funders of the 9/11 hijackers, was doing the biding of the ISI, the Pakistani intelligence agency. This claim was, according to the film, widely reported in the Indian press, which is true as far as I can tell. But a more important point, known by anyone with a cursory knowledge of the region, is ignored: The long-simmering tensions between India and Pakistan have given rise to numerous scandalous accusations in the press. With little solid evidence to back itself up, Press for Truth loses a big chunk of credibility.
In typical low-budget documentary fashion, Press for Truth is primarily comprised of stock footage (prepare to see those terrorists on the monkey bars a few more times), talking head interview shots, and a few rudimentary original animation sequences. The production values and transfer are clean and competent, but expect little more. Bonus material includes uncut testimony from the 9/11 Commission hearings and a trailer.
The unfortunate turn Press for Truth takes towards theories roughly as tenable as Time Cube doesn't undermine the real emotion behind the Jersey Girls and the other still-living victims of 9/11; their unanswered questions are still valid and they deserve to be answered. If Press for Truth comes up short in providing answers, it's because just about everyone thus far has reached a similar impasse. When it concentrates on pressing for truth, as its title suggests, then it succeeds; when it attempts to provide the truth, it fails.
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