Fremd grad's film captures mood on 9/12

 
 
Updated 4/5/2016 12:21 PM
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  • David Heinz works on the set of his new movie, "September 12th," which depicts the unity, kindness and compassion people showed toward each other immediately after the 2001 terrorist attacks.

    David Heinz works on the set of his new movie, "September 12th," which depicts the unity, kindness and compassion people showed toward each other immediately after the 2001 terrorist attacks. courtesy of David Heinz

  • Fremd High School alumnus David Heinz, a Hollywood visual effects editor, has just written and directed his first film, "September 12th."

    Fremd High School alumnus David Heinz, a Hollywood visual effects editor, has just written and directed his first film, "September 12th." courtesy of David Heinz

  • The movie "September 12th" was written and directed by Palatine native David Heinz.

    The movie "September 12th" was written and directed by Palatine native David Heinz. courtesy of David Heinz

  • The movie "September 12th" was written and directed by Palatine native David Heinz.

    The movie "September 12th" was written and directed by Palatine native David Heinz. courtesy of David Heinz

  • The characters in the movie "September 12th" drive cross-country in a 1972 Chevy van once owned by Frank Sinatra.

    The characters in the movie "September 12th" drive cross-country in a 1972 Chevy van once owned by Frank Sinatra. courtesy of David Heinz

  • David Heinz, who grew up in Palatine, works on the set of his new movie, "September 12th."

    David Heinz, who grew up in Palatine, works on the set of his new movie, "September 12th." courtesy of David Heinz

Given the nation's current political climate, it's hard to remember the unity and kindness Americans felt for each other after the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001.

Former Palatine resident David Heinz sought to capture that fleeting time in history in his new film, "September 12th."

It's the first movie written and directed by Heinz, an alumnus of St. Theresa School and Fremd High School who until now has spent his career as a Hollywood visual effects editor. He's worked on huge movies such as "Live Free or Die Hard," "X-Men Origins: Wolverine" and Disney's upcoming live-action "The Jungle Book." He's now working on "War for the Planet of the Apes."

But he squeezed in time to do this passion project -- and saved money for years to finance it. So he's ecstatic to see it finally come to fruition. He expects the movie to be in film festivals later this year, where he hopes to attract a distributor.

To help him pay for the final postproduction work, Heinz, 35, has launched a Kickstarter campaign, which includes clips of "September 12th."

"(To do a movie like this) it's just a leap of faith, right? If you feel compelled to do something, you have to do it," he said. "You can talk yourself out of things in a million different ways. But at a certain point, you have to kinda go for it. So I did."

Heinz said he questioned his sanity at several points while filming his music-filled movie, which involved a 3,500-mile cross-country road trip in an old van and a crew of 15 people.

"Everyone who knew about it said, 'You aren't going to actually drive to New York?'" he said, laughing. "It made for some pretty interesting adventures."

The stars of "September 12th" are two real-life musicians, Joe Purdy and Amber Rubarth. In the film, they get stuck in an airport after 9/11. To get home, they drive together from New York to California.

The two strangers form a bond during their road trip, singing songs to pass the time as they process the tragic news. They drive across America, meeting other people and musicians along the way.

"It's about that brief moment in time that we were all connected," Heinz said.

For the movie, Heinz bought a 1972 Chevy van off Craigslist that was once owned by Frank Sinatra. In hindsight, it wasn't the best idea.

"It looked great on camera, but in almost every other way, it was wildly impractical," he said, adding that it got about 12 mpg. They ended up putting the van on a trailer and towing it on two-lane highways between Los Angeles and New York.

One night, while driving in the desert between California and Arizona, they pulled over to get gas and realized the trailer was empty. The van -- a major prop in the movie -- had rolled off somewhere along the 100 of miles of desert roads they'd just driven. Heinz called it "the lowest point in my life."

They found it about 60 miles away in a ditch. They towed it out, got it started and resumed filming.

"(When the van disappeared) I kept thinking, 'This thing I've worked toward for so long was just gone. It's over. It's done ... so I can't even tell you what it was like to see that the van was OK," he said.

On Sept. 11, 2001, Heinz was a Columbia College film student, living at home in Palatine and working a temp job in Elk Grove Village, taking insurance claims over the phone.

Sept. 12 was his 21st birthday, but no one felt like celebrating. Yet Heinz remembers the unity, kindness and compassion people were showing toward strangers, like waiting in line for hours to donate blood or driving to ground zero to help with the recovery operations. That feeling stuck with him all these years.

"When (9/11) happened, it just brought people back to a really sort of basic hierarchy of needs: I want to go home and be with the people I love. That part of the story hasn't really been told," he said. "(With this film), I wanted to remind people how we were, and how we could be all the time."

• Dann Gire and Jamie Sotonoff are always looking for people from the suburbs who are now working in showbiz. If you know of someone who'd make an interesting feature, email them at dgire@dailyherald.com and jsotonoff@dailyherald.com.

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