Filmmaker Dylan Avery may not pay rent, but he’s already paid the price for his dedication to the truth: a couch to sleep on.
Avery, whose 9/11 documentary, Loose Change, premiered at Visions Bar Noir on Sept. 11, had been staying with a friend for a few months when, during a trip to the Pentagon, he and a fellow “fact finder” were detained by guards. “We rolled up and…started asking the guards, ‘Hey, have you ever seen footage of the World Trade Center [attacks] slowed down?’” says Avery. In retrospect, “that was the stupidest fucking question.” Avery and his companion were questioned for two hours before being released.
After hearing about the incident, Avery’s host asked him if he thought he could be killed for making his movie, which suggests that the bloodiest terrorist attack in American history was planned not by al Qaeda, but by a group based a little closer to home: the Bush administration. “I said, ‘Maybe,’” the filmmaker recalls. “‘It’s possible.’” A few days later, Avery was kicked out.
The 20-year-old Oneonta, N.Y., native now lives on New Hampshire Avenue NW near Dupont Circle, thanks to a friend in a reggae band. He’s currently in management training at Hot D.C., a sandwich shop on P Street NW, but “every minute” of his free time, he says, is spent clacking away on his laptop, refining his movie and digging deeper into the wealth of 9/11 accounts on the Web.
Surprisingly, Avery says he wasn’t initially interested in making a documentary. He first scripted a feature film about a group of young revolutionaries, but while researching the 9/11 component of the story, he unearthed so many unsettling inconsistencies that he changed course. “I’ve always been interested in film,” says Avery, who’s twice applied to—and been rejected from—film school. “But I really want to make [feature films]. I got a ton of ideas.” For the moment, however, Loose Change is his baby.
At the premiere, many of the 20 or so audience members were friends and co-workers, and their $6 admission fees don’t seem likely to make much of a dent in the $500 Avery paid to rent Visions for an hour-and-a-half to screen his “work in progress.” Or, for that matter, in the $1,500 he spent on the computer used to create the 30-minute short.
It’s clear from the choppy narrative and borrowed footage that there is, indeed, much work to be done. It’s also clear that Avery isn’t exactly going after the Fahrenheit 9/11 crowd: His film asserts (1) that the World Trade Center collapse was a planned demolition, with explosives planted in the weeks before the attacks; (2) that United Flight 93, which crashed in Pennsylvania, was shot down; and (3) that a commercial airliner probably never flew into the Pentagon—there were no traces of a such a craft found on the scene. Over the next few weeks, Avery hopes to conduct his own interview with Dennis Tardio, a New York City firefighter whose on-screen description of events lends credence to at least the first of those contentions.
“Think about it,” Avery enthused during a postfilm Q-and-A session. “The Bush administration has had an insane amount of power [since the attacks] to do whatever they want…the Homeland Security Act, the war in Iraq….All they have to say is ‘9/11,’ and everyone jumps.”
Getting a rise out of Avery isn’t so easy, however. When an audience member asked the filmmaker if he was worried about the proprietary nature of much of Loose Change’s footage, Avery calmly explained that his only choice was to use what was out there. “If they want to sue me, they can,” he said. “But they won’t get very much.”—Anne Marson