Posted: November 24th, 2009
Mumbai Massacre
About the Making Of

Director Statement from film maker Victoria Pitt

The Story

Amy Pitt with Jim FraterThe Mumbai terror attacks grabbed and held the world’s attention for three days. But in many ways, the story – in words and pictures – that we all absorbed was an opaque account. News footage from the outside of burning buildings. Quick sound bites from survivors as they rushed from the siege. And later brisk accounts from the trial of the one surviving gunman.

But what actually went on inside those buildings? What went on in the heads of the people who one minute were eating dinner, or reading in bed, and the next were the prey in a deadly game of cat and mouse? We read and hear so much about terrorism, but what is it actually like to experience it?

That is the territory Mumbai Massacre sets out to explore.

Early on we decided that we would not attempt to explain the politics and geopolitics of the attack; that our focus would be strictly personal. The interesting thing about that decision is that in diving deeply into the personal experiences of the people caught up in the siege, a very rich account of the politics naturally emerged. Turkish Muslim couple Seyfi and Meltem Muezzinoglu were hostages of the gunmen for 8 hours: their account will challenge anyone who assumes that Islam and Terrorism are naturally connected.

Similarly the final response of so many in the film to the young men who tried to kill them – mercy – throws out a challenge with unique authority (the authority of direct experience) to impulses of vengeance in the face of terrorism.

These very individual and authentic experiences are the real strength of the film.

With that focus we were entirely dependent on the people whose story it was to tell. We met with extraordinary generosity from the Oberoi Hotel and the Taj Mahal Hotel and the many individuals caught up in the attacks. We sat down to speak with these people only months after the most traumatic experience of their lives. They – and so many others who do not appear in the film – displayed stunning courage in sharing their experiences. It was an old-fashioned act of Bearing Witness – wanting to record and tell what really happened.

The Style

Realizing their accounts as pictures has been a huge challenge. One of the key visual notes of the film is the Unseen. Very few of our characters saw the terrorists. But they heard them and were intimately connected to them for hours in imagination. It’s what Anthony Rose calls the Orson Welles Theater of the Mind effect.

Mumbai Massacre works with this dynamic – using the audience’s imagination, drawing our viewers in, rather than presenting full literal visual details.

Sound is the star of our film – footsteps, gun fire, grenades, the creak of a door swinging ominously open.

The drama was shot with an absolute determination not to re-enact or recreate. Nothing could compete with the authenticity of the accounts we had. Our aim was to respond to the mood, and the predicament our interviewees relate. So it is, above all, impressionistic. Early on, I found myself dreaming about the attacks, picking up on details so many people had told me. My dreams (nightmares really) were all about shadows and half seen figures. This became the film’s visual language.

Figures in our drama sequences are almost never seen in clear resolution; instead they’re vaguely glimpsed through a haze of smoke or gunfire. Shadows are seen in the narrow, intently-studied space under a door. Doors generally are a powerful motif. It’s all about suspense. This means that while the drama tracks the specific narrative of our character’s accounts, it does so in a way that is suggested, defocused, not entirely resolved. Stillness and silence are essential to this rhythm.

Writer/Director Victoria Midwinter Pitt says:
Surviving terrorism has become a world obsession. Every attack is watched in real time, by millions. Felt and feared around the world. But for all its complex causes and consequences, it is – as an act – necessarily personal. Inflicted by one human being upon another.

The real experience of terror is a story seldom heard by anyone but family and closest friends. But this is that story. Told by people who had a lot of time to think about it – the people caught up in not seconds or minutes of terror like 9/11 or the London Bombings, but stuck for days, in the siege of Mumbai.

The keys to Mumbai Massacre then are its personal focus and its exploration of how, in a protracted situation, people survive terror.

THIRTEEN Executive Producer, Jared Lipworth says:
From the day Phil Craig first brought this story to me, I knew it was one I needed to pursue. Although it’s very personal style and current topic pushed the boundaries of my Secrets of the Dead series, the opportunity to shed this kind of intimate light on such a disturbing and barbaric moment in history was too important to pass up. We all sat glued to our TVs while the attacks were going on, but even with all the news coverage, I remember being left with so many questions about what really happened inside the walls of the hotels, and how people had survived in the face of such wanton terror.

With this film, we are able to answer many of those questions, and Victoria has done so in a way that is both painfully chilling in its intimacy, and uplifting in its reflection of the human spirit, the will to survive, and the capacity to risk one’s own life to save others.

It’s been an honor to be a part of this project, and I continue to marvel at the courage of the survivors, both during the attacks, and when they agreed to tell their stories for our film.

Electric Pictures Executive Producer, Andrew Ogilvie says:
I began working on the idea for a film with Co-executive Producer Phil Craig within 24 hours of the first attacks in Mumbai. The stories we were hearing of human courage were inspiring and I was fascinated by the role that modern communications technology played in the unfolding drama.

Now, one year later, I feel privileged to have worked on a film which is a very special account of human resilience and fortitude in the face of pure evil. It’s an incredibly intimate and powerful story.

Furnace Executive Producer, Phil Craig says:
I have made several documentaries about terror attacks — on Bali, Madrid, New York and Washington — but, even as the news from Mumbai was breaking, it was clear that something different was happening there. Rather than an explosion and its consequences, this was a story about a hunt.

I was fascinated by every emerging detail of how the people trapped inside the hotels tried to escape, or simply tried to avoid the gunmen, and even more fascinated once it became clear that the killers and their prey were using the same technology.

Victoria Pitt has done a remarkable job on this film. The frankness, the dignity and the insight of her interviews show how fully the survivors of Mumbai came to trust her. And, once again, it has been a pleasure working with Andrew Ogilvie and his first class team at Electric Pictures.

  • Susan

    This documenatary was excellently presented, giving details and displaying the terror of the victims. Has this show ever been shown on TV before this? I remember so much of it, and was wondering if it was shown shortly after the tragedy. Please send an email to me if you are able to answer.

  • Jack

    I liked the focus on the personal stories and the animation of the hotel buildings. This is a powerful documentary that personalizes the terror and senselessness of what happened in Mumbai.

    One jarring note was the voice overs of the terrorist conversations with their handlers in Pakistan – what was the need to recreate the conversations in Hindi/Urdu when the original recordings in Punjabi/urdu are publicly available (Channel Four / HBO’s “Terror In Mumbai” documentary) and have such a chilling impact? No voice actor can come close to the original recordings in punjabi and it is a pity that the director chose to replace the original recordings with a dramatized, sterile version.

    Another fact that the documentary got wrong was in mentioning that the Rabbi and his wife were still alive when the terrorist’s handler in Pakistan insisted that the remaining hostages be killed at Nariman Point. The Rabbi and his wife were killed at the start of the siege at the Nariman point and the only hostages still alive were the two women who were killed with a single burst (sounded like one shot on the original recording).

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