Two excellent films bring a dark day to life: Peter Berg’s Patriots Day and Ricki Stern and Annie Sundberg’s Marathon The Patriot’s Day Bombing.
Peter Berg’s Patriots Day, a new feature on the Boston marathon bombing refreshes us on the details of terrorism through the eyes of a policeman working that day. Mark Wahlberg stars, portraying a composite character in a film hewing so close to the facts, that in a shootout with the two brothers who are known to have committed the horrendous act of planting homemade bombs in knapsacks along the race route finish line, he counted the gunshots and explosions in the soundtrack to make the explosive scene as authentic as possible. The result is thrilling, as nail biting and exciting as Berg’s Lone Survivor, or any film he’s made to date, enacting the bombing, carjacking, shootout, and capture of the younger bomber. At the Lotos Club on Monday, former NYC police commissioner Mike Kelley and many others joined Berg, Wahlberg, and Kevin Bacon, who plays FBI Special Agent in Charge of Boston, Richard DesLauriers, for a passionate discussion of Boston’s solidarity.
Present too were Ricki Stern and Annie Sundberg, documentary filmmakers who made Marathon: The Patriot’s Day Bombing, now airing on HBO. They chatted with Peter Berg about his choices in making Patriots Day. No less thrilling, Marathon picks up where the fiction film leaves off, following several survivors in the aftermath of terror. A married couple, Jessica Kensky and Patrick Downes, are shown at the end of Patriots Day in an emotional tribute to the theme of “Boston Strong.” In Marathon, we see them in rehab on good days and bad. I had met them at the recent Hamptons International Film Festival. Given what they’d endured, I was surprised at their jokes about prostheses, oh, everybody’s got something, a bit of black humor normalizing of the plight of wounded survivors of terror. And then I saw Marathon, and saw what their days were really like, years of long recovery, physical pain, and tough decisions. I spoke to the filmmakers last Friday, how they landed on this subject for a documentary film, and what they learned making it.
Ricki: Annie and I were talking about a different film about terrorism before meeting with Sheila Nevins and Nancy Abrahams at HBO in 2014. The Boston marathon trial was happening in Boston. Sheila remarked, why isn’t this frontpage news? Then we had a larger discussion about the survivors of terrorism. Were there stories? We started research that led us to the Boston Globe. They were the only news source that stayed with the survivor stories.
Annie: There were tons of first year anniversary spots. They were congratulatory: We made it! Even if we had wanted to tell the bomber’s story, we couldn’t but we also came to the decision that we did not want to. We tend in America to tell the stories of the perpetrators, we name them, and they become celebrities. Many people in Boston won’t name the bombers. They know their names. We tell the story of what happened through the survivor stories, and how they were reacting to the known events as they unfolded.
We asked the Boston Globe reporters to ask, who should we start the story with? It was apparent that all the journalists had longterm relationships with the survivors they covered. This was more than just a story to them. We looked at the depth of that. We figured out the prism to tell the larger Boston Marathon story. It ultimately became Patrick and Jessica, the Corcoran and Norden families. This is going to continue to happen, how do individuals come back after such an experience?
The trial became all about the death penalty and the question, how do we treat terrorism. We discovered that everyone respected the difference of opinion on the death penalty; that’s where we were as a country once upon a time.
Annie: How do you tell a story of such universal importance? It would be the same if you were diagnosed with cancer, or something happened to your child. Our film is a meditation on resilience. People ran toward the danger, not away from it, this is a sense of the best of our humanity.
Ricki: Sadly, we will have more acts of terror, but this film shows we can unify. Boston is a tight knit city; the heroes who helped are really the best of who we are. After seeing our film, people said they felt patriotic.
A version of this post also appears on Gossip Central.