Terror at the Mall: Director Dan Reed Discusses His HBO Documentary [Exclusive Interview]
This is not an easy documentary to watch. There are many disturbing images and innocent people are hurt and killed. But through it all, the human spirit triumphs. Documentary filmmaker Dan Reed focuses his lens on the events of Westgate Mall on September 21, 2013. Al-Shabaab, an Al Qaeda-linked terrorist group from Somalia, laid siege to the mall for 49 hours, leaving 71 dead and hundreds wounded. Told from the vantage point of more than 100 security cameras revealing hours of previously unseen mall surveillance video and drawing on extensive photos taken during the attack and testimony from survivors and rescuers depicted in the footage and photos, Terror at the Mall recalls the horror of the attack, as well as the courage and resilience of ordinary citizens in the face of mass murder.I had the chance to email director Dan Reed about the project. He talks about why this film is important right now, how he decided who to focus on and the message he hopes people take away from this film.
TV GOODNESS: Terror at the Mall is the third in a series of Terror inâ€¦ documentaries you’ve done. First was Terror in Moscow, next was Terror in Mumbai and now Terror at the Mall. Why is it important for you tell this story right now?
Dan Reed: â€œThe attack on Nairobiâ€™s Westgate Mall was a variation on the theme which we first saw in Mumbai, where 5 teams of shooters hit multiple urban targets. Nairobi involved a single team hitting one target, and was a simpler operation. But because a shopping mall is a location that is so generic and so familiar to all of us in the US or UK, this attack was if anything more terrifying than the first two I covered.â€
TV GOODNESS: How did you decide which narratives you wanted to focus on?
Dan: â€œThis was partly dictated by the security camera footage: the stories that were best covered by the most cameras for the longest time. We also wanted to touch on the massacre at the childrenâ€™s cooking contest in the rooftop parking lot, where the second pair of gunmen hit because that is where most people were killed or injured â€“ even though security camera coverage was poor and this limited how long we could spend on that narrative.â€
TV GOODNESS: Considering the vast amount of video footage you had at your disposal, did it make it easier or harder to tell this story?
Dan: â€œThe amount of security camera footage was vast â€“ several thousand. In most of it, not very much happens, but we had to check through many hundreds of hours just to make sure. We focused mainly the first 4 hours of the attack, the timeframe within which all the civilians were killed, but even that involved a great deal of labor because we had footage from more than one hundred cameras and it wasnâ€™t immediately obvious how they all linked together. Different sets of cameras had slightly different clocks, so we had to work out the various offsets which would allow us effectively to synchronize the action on all the cameras accurately.â€
TV GOODNESS: Even during something as horrific as this terrorist attack, it was refreshing to see people of different religions and ethnicities helping each other. Do you think a film like this could help start a dialogue or at least be a first step in ending some of the hostilities between Christians and Muslims in the region?
Dan: â€œThe fact that in their moment of need, people stuck together and helped one another regardless of status, race or creed gives me immense hope and making this into a feature of the retelling of this story as we do can only send a positive message out there. Bear in mind also that while the attackers were Somali Muslims, so was one of the main good guys who risked his life to save hundreds of people at Westgate. And the plainsclothes cop Nura Ali who can also justifiably called a hero of Westgate, confronting the terrorists in a gunfight and taking three gunshot wounds, one of them life-changing, is a Muslim.”
TV GOODNESS: Watching this documentary is very upsetting for many reasons, including the fact that it took the police and military so long to coordinate a response. Even worse, is that the Kenyan government stands behind the actions of the military. What do you make of that?
Dan: â€œThe dysfunctional response of the Kenyan authorities â€“ barring the small group of cops who went in on their own initiative â€“ is not surprising given the self-serving and dysfunctional culture that seems to pervade some state institutions in Kenya. Clearly saving lives was low down on their list of priorities as the authorities responded to the attack and the lack of urgency proved catastrophic. This, combined with disorganization and the apparent absence of leadership led to tragic delays as the injured bled to death and the terrorists roamed free inside the mall, even though hundreds of armed police and soldiers were just a few yards away and could easily have gone into the building and outgunned the 4 Shabaab terrorists, who had limited supplies of ammunition.â€
TV GOODNESS: If people only take one thing away from this film, what do you want it to be?
Dan: â€œLetâ€™s consider what it was that turned four very young men into unflinching mass-murderers: who conditioned them and what kind of experiences must they have had to be judged suitable candidates for that conditioning. When you take away the Al-Shabaab â€œmission,â€ how different were they to the two boys who carried out the Columbine massacre in the USA? My other takeaway is this: if you hear gunfire at the mall, run, donâ€™t hide.â€
Edited for space and content.
Terror at the Mall is available any time on HBO GO and will re-air on HBO throughout the month.
This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.
John Griffin and Harold Perrineau Talk From on EPIX Season 1 Finale
[Warning: General spoilers ahead.] How are we doing, #FROMily? In case you missed it this morning, the very good news is that that cliffhanger will be followed by a second season, which was gifted this morning ahead of the linear broadcast of the finale. I always legitimately appreciate when we…
Elizabeth Saunders Talks EPIX’s From
[Warning: General spoilers ahead.] One of the things that makes EPIX’s From such a fun ride is the abundance of Canadian cast members. Elizabeth Saunders, who plays Donna, is a favorite from her turn on the third season of Mary Kills People [streaming on Global TV in Canada and Roku…
Corteon Moore Talks From “Broken Windows, Open Doors”
[Warning: Spoilers for tonight’s episode.] Tonight’s episode of From had us all in our feels as we learned through flashbacks about the Sophie’s Choice Boyd had to make to save his son, and back in the present as Boyd said his piece with Ellis before heading into the woods with…
Pegah Ghafoori Talks From “All Good Things…”
[Warning: Spoilers for tonight’s episode] Tonight on From, Fatima’s anniversary celebration turned into a Colony House of horrors when a misguided Kevin let his monster bae in and she promptly killed him and left the window open for her crew. While the party devolved into terror and sent everyone running,…
Shaun Majumder Talks From “Book 74”
[Warning: Spoilers for tonight’s episode.] Tonight on EPIX’s From, Father Khatri made a bold move, kidnapping Sara instead of turning her in, and then recognizing her as a vessel for some big messages. That startling realization speaks to him on multiple levels–as a man of faith, a man trapped in…
Avery Konrad Talks About Sara’s Struggle in From “Silhouettes”
[Warning: Spoilers for tonight’s episode.] Over the course of the season so far on From, we’ve witnessed Sara’s battle against the voices telling her to to do terrible things, and tonight we saw her unravel further, threatening the Matthews and lashing out in a moment of terror with horrifying results….
Hannah Cheramy Talks From “Choosing Day”
[Warning: Spoilers for tonight’s episode.] Tonight, on EPIX’s From, the Matthews participate in the show’s version of the sorting hat, choosing where to call home–the town or Colony House. At the end of the episode, Julie makes the decision to split from her family and instead settle in with Fatima…
Ricky He Talks From “The Way Things Are Now”
[Warning: Spoilers for episode 102 of EPIX’s From.] Epix’s new series From is two episodes in and it’s already laying the groundwork for a seriously spooky season. Tonight’s episode demonstrated the careful balance of relief and horror that the show hits, with our characters’ worst fears realized, just not when…
Catching Up with Ted Lasso and Previewing Season 2
[Warning: General spoilers ahead.] The not so dirty little secret about how I approach a new series is that I sometimes make a call based on the headspace I’m in at the time. It’s been a minute since I’ve picked up a show after the first season and then binge…
What They Said: Three Revealing Conversations from Survivor’s Remorse “Closure”
WARNING: Spoilers for Survivor’s Remorse “Closure” The latest episode of Starz’s Survivor’s Remorse featured conversations that showed characters really digging deep into their thoughts, emotions and motivations.
Two Takes: The Catch “The Knock-Off”
Who can you trust? If this episode of The Catch was any indication, the answer is just about nobody. Betrayal was running rampant as Felicity (Shivani Ghai) arose from the dead to seduce-con Margot, Gretchen (Maria Thayer, Gotham, The Mindy Project) played gold-hearted Alice 2.0 before swindling Ethan, Tessa jumped…
What They Said: Top 3 Quotable Moments from Preacher “El Valero”
Both Quincannon and Jesse refuse to give up on what they each think is rightfully theirs. While Jesse is struggling to face the consequences of his actions, Quincannon has laid his past demons to rest and is hellbent on moving forward and putting Annville on the map again. Despite a…
What They Said: Favorite Quotes from Supergirl “Worlds Finest”
Oh, Supergirl. That ending was cold. But I can’t hate on you because the latest episode has quickly become one of my favorites.
What They Said: Top 4 Quotable Moments from Black Sails “XXIII”
The dialogue in “XXIII” is phenomenal. It’s always a fun ride when Black Sails carries its viewers along without giving them the chance to catch their breath. When an episode moves at this unforgiving pace, there is no chance for a breather nor is there a respite from the information…
What Lucifer Said: Favorite quotes from Supernatural “O Brother, Where Art Thou?”
Supernatural episodes are almost always funny but thanks to the dialogue and a certain man speaking said dialogue, I laughed a lot during “O Brother, Where Art Thou?” You know, when I wasn’t busy fearing for Sam’s life or wondering what in the world was going on with Dean and…
What They Said: The Flash, “Legends Of Today” and Arrow, “Legends Of Yesterday”
Two nights of Arrow +Â The Flash = what more could we ask for?! I don’t know what it is about blending these shows, but I canâ€™t help but feel that every time they come together, they somehow become greater than the sum of their parts. And thatâ€™s saying a lot…
What they Said: Top 4 Quotable Moments from Graceland “Little Bo Bleep”
Shoot outs. Fake outs. And long-awaited revelations. “Little Bo Bleep” was a jam-packed episode that wrapped up some loose ends and totally frayed others. Â It finally gave us one Sarkissian in jail and pulled back the curtain on Briggs’ master plan, but it also set up Jakes for a world…
What They Said: Favorite Quotes from Poldark “Part 4”
â€œWhat have I told you, I don’t require my wife to crochet and sip tea, but I do require her to remember she’s not a beast of burden.â€ No, Iâ€™m not talking about The Rolling Stones! I have to admit though, just for a second, the lyrics popped into my…
3 Moments of Goodness from Brooklyn Nine-Nine “Johnny and Dora”
The most satisfying part of this season’s finale has to the Jake and Amy kiss. Well, they kiss three times but the last one is the best one — and it means something. The Charles and Rosa dynamic was also great. I love how she’s convinced he doesn’t know anything…