Days before Deadline broke the news about Irish writer-director Jim Sheridan’s latest feature outing H-Block, an Ireland-set drama about the Maze Prison escape, the six-time Oscar nominee sat down at Deadline’s Tribeca studio to discuss his Tribeca-premiering short film 11th Hour, based on a true story of a different nature.
Starring Salma Hayek, the pic based on Lisa Hand’s story is a small, intimate and haunting chamber piece, watching the patrons and owners of a pub on the day of 9/11 as they react to the profound and traumatic displays on the news, and coming face to face with the reality of the incomprehensible situation via a wandering firefighter.
“A journalist called Lisa Hand was over here [in New York] working on 9/11, and she was in a bar called Marty O’Briens, and more or less, the scene that happened in the movie happened, you know?” the director told Deadline. “I met Lisa in Dublin, and she was telling me the story, and I said, ‘That’d make a great short story,’ and now with Trump, it’d be very topical. And I said, ‘Let’s do it.’ ”
One might wonder how it’s possible—even for a director of Sheridan’s stature—to get an Oscar-nominated actress to come on board for a short film project. A friend of Hayek since her Frida days, the director was admittedly nervous in prepping the short, hoping he could find a way to make the stars align. “With somebody like Salma, they always have a schedule, and [you’re] hoping that she doesn’t get something else that she has to do. You know, you’ve built everything up for that one day,” Sheridan explains.
The other challenge for Sheridan—with a piece centering on one location, with few actors and an essential narrative simplicity—was to take material that was inherently dialogue-driven and “make it a bit interesting, lighten it, trying to make it very relaxed in the acting, so it doesn’t seem theatrical.”
Sheridan also discussed the strong visuals on which the film hinges, and what he feels is the takeaway of the short, premiering in our current moment, with its diverse cast of actors. “It’s amazing to me what you can convey by a look, and emotion flashing across an actor’s face—compassion and empathy, you know? Empathy for other people,” he said. “I often think, when I’m thinking of the situation of the Middle East, they say ‘Shia and Shiites,’ and it’s like Catholics and Protestants—I realized how much people would get confused between Catholics and Protestants in Ireland, and the minute you try to explain it, it’s like water, flipping through your hands. You can’t hold the explanation, because it doesn’t make sense.”
“People shouldn’t hate each other that are the same color, the same country. It’s just f*cking stupid,” the director continued, expressing hope for future portraits of unity, solidarity and mutual respect. “You can’t explain it. You can only hope for a different, positive image.”
To view Deadline’s conversation with the 11th Hour director, click above.