In The Love We Make, famed documentarian Albert Maysles follows Paul McCartney around New York City as he prepares for the Concert for New York benefit at Madison Square Garden on October 20th, 2001.
"There's no anger in this film," the 84-year-old Maysles told Rolling Stone after a screening at the Toronto International Film Festival. "It's all an attempt to understand and to repair whatever the damage was by being so kind to these people."
Maysles – the man behind the camera for the Beatles' first U.S. visit in 1964 and the Rolling Stones' Gimme Shelter, which captured the infamous Altamont Speedway Free Festival – received a call from McCartney after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Both McCartney and Maysles were on planes that day, waiting to take off from different New York airports.
"I started thinking, 'What can I do?'" McCartney explains in the film. Maysles felt the same way. So they put their skills to good use: McCartney organized a concert and wrote a new song, "Freedom," and Maysles shot a movie in 16 mm, black-and-white film.
Maysles, then 74, followed McCartney as he rehearsed with his band and walked the streets of New York. He is approached by fans from all over, and welcomes it. "I feel like I'm running for mayor," he says at one point, as if this is all new to him.
Maysles sat on his footage for almost a decade, before directing partner Bradley Kaplan and editor Ian Markiewicz stepped in to assemble the documentary. Why did he wait so long to release it?
"The events of 9/11 were so profound and so intense and so overwhelming, that frankly I think there needed to be some distance for Paul and for Albert and for the film to have a life outside just simply being a first response," Kaplan told Rolling Stone. "Because the first response was at Ground Zero and that was what was important. It wasn't important a year or two later to reflect back because we're still in it."
The Love We Make is interspersed with color footage from the concert that featured some of the biggest artists in the world – Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Elton John, David Bowie, the Who, James Taylor, Billy Joel, Eric Clapton and Jay-Z, most of whom are seen in Maysles backstage footage. When McCartney saw the finished film, Kaplan pitched the title The Love You Make, a lyric from the Beatles' "The End."
"Paul said, 'That's interesting. What if we changed one word just to make it that much more unique and also something special for this particular film? I think it should be The Love We Make. What do you think?' And I immediately got goose bumps just from that one word change. It brought in the notion of huddled masses and people coming together to unite in the film to uplift and hopefully heal," said Kaplan.
At the end of the film, McCartney is at a firehouse that is adorned with photos and tributes, talking with the men about his father being a firefighter in World War II. "Wow, my dad did that," McCartney says. "It really brought it home."
"Ian and I had this idea of taking that and putting it almost like a coda, an denouement, for a way to bring it all back to what it really was about," Kaplan said. "It is a tribute film to people who are no longer with us and to people that have suffered profoundly since."