‘AMERICAN BOMBER‘ finds John Hidell, a disgraced ex-soldier, travels to New York City to become the first American born and raised suicide bomber. As he prepares for his bombing, he finds himself in an unexpected relationship with Amy, a divorced bartender. As his infatuation with her and New York grows, Hidell neglects his role in the bombing plot and begins to hope for the future. A hope that shatters when his co-conspirators and the FBI come hunting for him. With time running out, he must choose between a life on the run or a death in the history books.
Interviews with FBI agents and Army specialists interweave with Hidell’s preparations for his suicide bombing. Oblivious to the surveillance around him, Hidell tours the city, meets a girl and tries to enjoy his last week on earth. However, his one-night stand, Amy, becomes something more. His infatuation with her and New York grows. He hopes for a future. A hope that shatters when his co-conspirators and the FBI come hunting for him. With time and options running out, he must choose between a life behind bars or a death in the history books.
We talked to ‘American Bomber‘ Writer/Director Eric Trenkamp in anticipation of the film’s WORLD PREMIER in Brooklyn, New York on FRIDAY, MAY 17 2013 at St. Francis College.
Buy Tickets for ‘American Bomber’ at the 2013 Art of Brooklyn Film Festival – HERE
Your film ‘American Bomber’ deals with some particularly relevant topics in our current society. How did this idea first come to you?
The idea for American Bomber came from my anxieties from living in New York during 9/11 and its aftermath. About five year’s ago, during Bush’s last year in office and right when the economy was collapsing, both wars were going badly and a presidential candidate could run on the world “hope,” I was talking with a friend of mine who was writing a book about suicide bombers in India. As she was explaining the socioeconomic unrest and religious extremism that contributed to young men becoming suicide bombers, I realized that she could just as easily be talking about the American rust belt.
I spent the next couple of years researching the topic. Reading everything I could and interviewing federal agents, federal prisoners, members of the military and the NYPD. The result is an accurate portrayal of the mindset of an American born suicide bomber.
Were you ever concerned the subject matter would turn off potential audiences? Did you encounter any animosity during the development/funding process in regards to content?
During the production of American Bomber, my producer, Mike Freeland, and I spent a lot of time discussing our approach to the tone of the film. We did not want to be exploitive in any way. We really wanted to be as realistic as possible in portraying what would drive an average American to commit such a horrible act. It’s the true-to-life approach that makes the story so fascinating.
We were expecting a lot of trepidation from anyone we approached about helping us with the film. But surprisingly, every single person who read the script said that they needed to be a part of this project. The story tries to capture that feeling of what it was like to be coming upon the tenth anniversary of 9/11 and what happened to us as a culture over those past 10 years and people really responded to that.
A disenfranchised soldier and a lonely bartender make up the film’s central characters. What is it about these two personas appealed to you to form your narrative around? In your own words, what do these character depictions say about the nature of our own society?
I’ve known a lot of soldiers and Marines and interviewed even more in researching the film. The one thing that all of these men and women have in common is that when they started their military careers they were idealists who wanted to contribute to a better world. These people embody the best of what it can mean to be an American. If you want to tell a story of a fall from grace, which is what American Bomber is about, I could think of no better starting point.
Everything that I love about New York is encapsulated in Rebekah Nelson’s performance of Amy, the bartender. She has a resilience, an intelligence, an independence and a strength of character that comes from living in a harsh city. She can be tough, even brutal, but she never loses her humanity. She’s the Statue of Liberty drinking you under the table and making you love every minute of it.
American Bomber is as much a tragedy about two people who could be great together if they hadn’t met at the wrong time as it is a tragedy about what our country could have been and what it might be becoming.
‘American Bomber’ utilizes a unique web design and adds an element to the overall film experience. What was your strategy when creating the film’s digital platforms?
We wanted the website for the film to be more than just an ad for American Bomber but to help immerse the audience into the world of the film. A large part of the film deals with how various agencies try to track potential threats and communicate with each other. We have a brilliant web designer, Mary Ann Benedetto, who really went to town with this concept. I especially love her emblem for the fictional Terrorism Taskforce supposedly running the site, which is the scales of justice tipped out of balance.
Facebook is also a huge part of our online presence. We did regular blog entries and behind the scenes photos throughout production. Even when there wasn’t much news about the film, we posted news articles about foiled bombing plots, domestic terrorism, federal surveillance programs – everything we could to let people know that even though American Bomber is a fiction it is based on real and terrifying events.
The film is constructed in a pseudo-documentary way. As a filmmaker, describe your thought process behind presenting the film in this way?
So many of these mass murderers and would be bombers that I researched had very similar life stories. The character of John Hidell is a composite of several of these men, which is why his journey seems so plausible. However, all of this detail generates a lot of exposition, which is hard to deal with in a narrative film.
The pseudo-documentary scenes are a way of handling this exposition in a more compelling way. In a lot of the interviews I read, especially those of friends and family of Timothy McVeigh and Lee Oswald, each person interviewed knew something about the man that others didn’t. Everyone had a small piece of a puzzle but they never got together to put all the pieces together.
The pseudo-documentary scenes are like that. One their own these scenes don’t tell you much, but all together they paint a portrait.
‘American Bomber’ is set to have its world premier at the 3rd annual Art of Brooklyn Film Festival whose mission is to showcase filmmakers with a relationship to the borough. How did Brooklyn ultimately help you get this film made? What is your personal relation to the borough?
I live in Brooklyn and work in the Film/Video Dept. at the Pratt Institute in Clinton Hill. It took us four years to make American Bomber and I think we would still be filming today if it wasn’t for the support of Pratt.
It was also important to me to include places that I have a personal connection to in the film. Two of the most crucial scenes take place at Coney Island, which I love. And the emotional climax of the film takes place in DUMBO in Brooklyn Bridge Park, which is not only a beautiful place to shoot but also has a lot of personal significance for me.
I am so proud of the film and the way it depicts New York and Brooklyn and I could not wish for of a better place to premiere the film than the Art of Brooklyn Film Festival.