When the planes hit the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001, Duke University professor Ariel Dorfman experienced a unique sense of déjà vu and horror. “My reaction was ‘Not again. Not again, not another Sept. 11. Again, a Tuesday, again in the morning, again planes bombing and destroying lives,’” he recalls in American Shadows, a multimedia work produced by his son Rodrigo for the Web site of P.O.V. Borders, the PBS documentary program.
For 28 years, Sept. 11 had signified a different tragedy for Dorfman, for on that date in 1973, Chile’s dream of a popularly elected socialist government was destroyed in a U.S.-backed coup that ended with the death of President Salvador Allende and the installation of a military junta headed by General Augusto Pinochet. Dorfman, who was employed in the Allende administration, took his family into European exile after the Chilean coup. In 1985, he began teaching at Duke University, where he is Walter Hines Page Professor of Literature and Professor of Latin American Studies.
His son, Durham filmmaker and journalist Rodrigo Dorfman, was 6 years old when Allende fell, and he subsequently grew up in Amsterdam speaking French, Dutch and Spanish. For years the younger Dorfman has collaborated on film projects with his father, and their most recent project was commissioned after P.O.V. saw a longer project the Dorfmans had produced for the Duke alumni magazine.
American Shadows consists of three short segments, each featuring the elder Dorfman discussing the two Sept. 11 catastrophes and the evolution of his own consciousness over three decades. Having experienced one Sept. 11 already, Dorfman wonders if Americans will be shaken from their sense of innocence, which could be seen as a narcissistic indifference to the rest of the world’s suffering. “We should use this occasion to understand all the victims of history, all the survivors of history,” Dorfman says. “This would be a great opportunity for growth, and for introspection.”
American Shadows is located at www.pbs.org/pov/borders/2006/ch_americanshadows.html. Ariel Dorfman is the author of many works of fiction and non-fiction, including the play Death and the Maiden and his memoir Heading South, Looking North. For more on his Chilean experience, go to www.adorfman.duke.edu/sept11 for his presentation titled “In the Footsteps of Sept. 11, 1973,” which also was produced by Rodrigo Dorfman. Other work by Rodrigo Dorfman can be found at www.melloweb.com.