“Killing in the Name’’ takes its place on the list of higher-profile films with Massachusetts connections up for an Oscar. “The Social Network’’ and “The Fighter,’’ both Bay State dramas, are nominated for best picture, and actors in those films, as well as “The Town,’’ are competing in several categories. In the documentary short category, “Killing in the Name’’ is up against two other films with a Massachusetts connection: “Poster Girl,’’ by Newton native Sarah Nesson, and “Sun Come Up,’’ by Norwood native and Wellesley College grad Jennifer Redfearn.
For filmmaker, telling story of terror victims is personal
Danielle Lemack (right) and her mother, Judy Larocque, who died on Flight 11 during the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. (Dominic Chavez/ Globe Staff/ File)
By Linda Matchan
When she got word her documentary was nominated for an Oscar, Framingham native Carie Lemack wanted to scream with joy. Except she couldn’t. She was at a conference in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, where public displays of emotion are discouraged.
“I was freaking out,’’ said Lemack, 35, whose thoughts immediately turned to her mother, Judy Larocque, the inspiration for the film. Larocque, founder and chief executive officer of a Framingham market research firm, was killed on American Airlines Flight 11 on Sept. 11, 2001. “Who would think that after losing my mother in such a horrible way we’d be going to the Oscars and celebrating her in such a phenomenal way?’’
Lemack is the executive producer of “Killing in the Name,’’ a 39-minute documentary about Ashraf al-Khaled, a Jordanian Muslim whose 2005 wedding in Amman was bombed by an Al Qaeda suicide terrorist. He and his wife lost 27 members of their wedding party, including three of their parents. Since then, Khaled has been on a mission to break the silence in the Muslim world about the cost of terrorism and to dissuade others from becoming terrorists.
The nomination certainly helps amplify the message, as “Killing in the Name’’ takes its place on the list of higher-profile films with Massachusetts connections up for an Oscar. “The Social Network’’ and “The Fighter,’’ both Bay State dramas, are nominated for best picture, and actors in those films, as well as “The Town,’’ are competing in several categories. (In the documentary short category, “Killing in the Name’’ is up against two other films with a Massachusetts connection: “Poster Girl,’’ by Newton native Sarah Nesson, and “Sun Come Up,’’ by Norwood native and Wellesley College grad Jennifer Redfearn.)
Lemack was only 26 when her mother died, but within a month she and her older sister, Danielle, had cofounded Families of September 11, a nonprofit organization to support families affected by the terrorist attacks and to push for policies to protect against terrorism. Lemack was the first president of the organization, which advocated for Congress and for President George W. Bush to create the 9/11 Commission and to pass the National Intelligence Reform Act.
“As we came out of the haze of 9/11, we realized people were making decisions about us without consulting us,’’ Lemack said in a telephone interview from Los Angeles. Distraught that the American Red Cross had plans to distribute money only to the families of victims killed on the ground, she pressured the Red Cross to give aid to families of victims on the hijacked plane. She also pushed back against the Walt Disney Co. after it announced it was donating $1,000 to every bereaved family, as long as they came to New York to pick up the check.
“I called up Disney and said, ‘I have a newsletter going out to 9/11 families in 10 minutes. Do you want me to tell them you’ll discriminate against families who can’t physically travel to you?’ ’’ Eight minutes later, she said, she got a call back, saying the checks would be in the mail. She also took on the Transportation Security Administration to lobby for tighter airline security. In 2005, when she learned the TSA was considering allowing passengers to carry bows and arrows in their carry-on luggage, she met with TSA administrator Kip Hawley. “I told him I’ve yet to see a deer that needs to be stalked at 30,000 feet,’’ Lemack said. It has always been her hope that no one else would have to experience the pain she and her sister experienced following 9/11.
“Danielle and I agreed that Mom’s murder had to be enough to prevent future deaths, said Lemack, who now lives in Washington, D.C., and has an MBA from Stanford University and a master’s in public adminstration from the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard.
“How could we live with ourselves if we didn’t do everything in our power to stop it from happening again?’’ Lemack said. “She always taught us to not be part of the problem, but be part of the solution.’’
Lemack got the idea for “Killing in the Name’’ in 2008, when she attended the first United Nations symposium on victims of terrorism, which brought together victims of terrorist attacks from around the world. That’s where she met Ashraf al-Khaled. They decided to form the Global Survivors Network, a collaboration of victims of terrorist attacks across the world. The idea was to provide a voice to victims, in the hope that terrorists will be listening.
“Every time Osama bin Laden or another terrorist has a message to send the world, the media lines up to listen to him,’’ Lemack said. “We deserve the opportunity to refute the terrorists’ claims, just like when the Republicans speak out and the Democrats get a chance to voice their opposition.’’
Making a film was another way to amplify the voices of victims of terrorism. Through an acquaintance, she reached out to Moxie Firecracker Films in New York, which ended up producing the film, and independent director Jed Rothstein, and also raised the money to make it. Rothstein was immediately drawn to Khaled’s story. “What attracted me to Ashraf was that he was not just wallowing in the horrors of what happened to him but is taking forward-moving steps that can either succeed or fail,’’ Rothstein said. “The fact that he is motivated not out of anger but rather out of hope is very compelling.’’
The camera follows Khaled to harrowing encounters with victims, perpetrators, and young, would-be terrorists, as he challenges their actions and assumptions. They include a recruiter for the Al Qaeda group responsible for bombing his wedding, the father of a suicide bomber who blew up more than 130 people in a crowded square in Iraq, and one of the terrorists responsible for the 2002 nightclub bombings in Bali, Indonesia.
“We know change is very slow,’’ Khaled said in a telephone interview from Amman. “But when Carie decides to do something, she will do everything until it’s accomplished.’’
This, presumably, includes getting tickets for them to Sunday’s Oscar ceremony and not just the film screenings and parties. Khaled and his wife, who is pregnant with their second child, are flying to California for the Oscar events; so is Danielle Lemack, who lives in Belmont. Tickets to the Oscars are limited, and so far they have gone to the filmmakers at Moxie Firecracker Films. Lemack is working on securing seats, but it’s a challenge, even for her.
“If it was getting a bill through Congress, I could do it,’’ she said. “But navigating Hollywood is another story.’’
Linda Matchan can be reached at email@example.com.