Emmanuel Tenenbaum’s “Free Fall” Looks at the Horrific Impact of an International Tragedy

Emmanuel Tenenbaum, director of Free Fall, was generous enough to speak with us about his career path, the inspiration behind the film, as well as the poignancy of this subject in 2021.

Describe Free Fall in three words.

Winning is losing.

How did you approach a film about an event that is so prominent in the public mind? What were the challenges?

Because the event is so sensitive and important, it was extremely important to make it truthful. So we studied every detail, every movement of the market, every word, and reaction from the TV commentators, and tried to reproduce it accurately. In a way, all the background events of the film are documentary-like.

Packy Lee as Cooper

What drew you to directing this film?

It came from a true story I found in the extraordinary book Swimming with Sharks, by Dutch writer Joris Luyendijk. After the 2008 crisis, Joris spent two years interviewing bankers in London and published a blog for the Guardian. He collected extraordinary, often surreal testimonies (on the condition his insiders would stay anonymous). In the book, one trader on a top bank tells us how he found out before anyone else that the first plane in the WTC was a terrorist attack, and how he made an enormous amount of money for his bank. It was only at the end of the day that he realized he had friends in the towers. During the whole day, he admits not having thought about them a single second… He was so absorbed in the money game, that he totally forgot about them. After reading this story, Guillaume Fournier (the scriptwriter) and I were absolutely certain we had to make a film about it. It’s rare to find a story that is so telling about the world we live in. That’s how the film was born.

You formerly had a career as a biomedical engineer. What inspired you to shift to directing films?

If you had told me 15 years ago that I would end up being a director, I would never have believed you! My background is indeed in biomedical engineering, and I worked for 3 years in the development of MRI scanners. However, parallel to my studies, I had done an evening course in a school in Madrid, as a hobby. Later on, I followed a one-month course at the NFTS in London, where I learned an incredible amount of useful things from teacher director Brian Gilbert. And eventually, I decided to go full time on this, and learn more of the ropes, year after year!

Bally Gill as Jay

What do you hope that audiences take away from this film?

Our objective was to show the audience how those behaviours (and their impact on the world) can occur but in a non-judgemental way. The strange sensation you mention comes from the fact that a part of us is rooting for Tom, the protagonist. In a way, he’s trying to do his job and we understand and support him, but eventually, his final actions feel completely unacceptable to us. In his position, we all hope we’d have done better.

How did you approach the subject of 9/11 with sensitivity while also creating a film where the characters aren’t supposed to know the true gravity of the situation and what it would become?

There is a combination of factors here. The first thing is that the audience knows what’s coming next and how serious the situation is. But the characters don’t. That’s actually the definition of Suspense according to Hitchcock. The second one has to do with what I described earlier: the immense amount of research and detail about how things went that day, especially in the markets.

Abraham Lewis as Tom

How did you think audiences would receive this film and how has it been received so far? 

The response has been amazing! We won a qualifying award at the international premiere. And then, festival after festival, people were always so enthusiastic, it was so incredible to see.

What’s next for you? Any upcoming projects?

We are working on a concept for a feature film, and although it is still a bit early to give you a definitive answer, as we’re still exploring various ideas, one thing we are sure about is that it will be about greed and what it can do to us, humans. Ideally, we’d like to come back to a more humorous tone, as was the case with our former shorts.

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