One of the most enduring tales from the tragic loss of life in the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 is the story of Mark Bingham, a gay man on board United Airlines Flight 93, who teamed up with other courageous passengers to overtake the hijackers and foil their presumed plans to run the plane into the U.S. Capitol. After passengers rushed the cockpit and the al Qaeda operatives who'd seized it, United 93 crashed into a field near Shanksville, Pa., just 130 miles from Washington, D.C., at 10:03 a.m. All 44 passengers and crew members on the flight perished.
Bingham's legacy as a hero has been cemented in the 12 years since the 9/11 attacks, with his mother, Alice Hoagland, traveling the globe to spread her son's long-sought vision of a more inclusive, accepting world. Hoagland, a former United Airlines flight attendant, has penned several op-eds for The Advocate, exploring multiculturalism and the best ways to keep her son's memory alive.
That tender, unique relationship between mother and son is one of the primary foci of a new documentary that explores Bingham's courageous, open life as he lived it. Scott Gracheff's new documentary, The Rugby Player, features never-before-seen footage that Bingham himself shot on a video camera through his teenage years and up until just weeks before he died.
As a youth, Bingham was an aspiring filmmaker, and he looked through his camera's lens to capture personal expression and even his teenage rebellion. As he grew up, Bingham kept his camera by his side to document the daily details of his life, both intimate and public, mundane and fantastic, profiling the friends and family who surrounded him.
"Through intimate interviews with friends and family, and of course the hundreds of hours of video footage he left behind, Mark’s personality and energy feels so tangible and present even 12 years after 9/11," says director-producer Gracheff. "This footage has allowed us to create an intimate portrait of a courageous individual who lived life to the fullest and without fear."
While the film reaches its heart-wrenching crescendo as Bingham's loved ones recount the last time each spoke with him or saw him smile, it also provides evidence of courage demonstrated by Bingham long before his actions on United 93. Sports were one factor in the development of this courage; a high school rugby captain and member of a national championship college team, Bingham was a founding member of San Francisco's first gay rugby club, the San Francisco Fog.
The Rugby Player is currently making its way through the film festival circuit, earning great acclaim at each stop, including the HBO Audience Award for best documentary at its world premiere during the Miami Gay and Lesbian Film Festival.
The film screens tonight at Lincoln Center as part of NewFest, New York City's LGBT Film Festival. But Advocate readers can get an exclusive sneak preview with two previously unreleased segments from the film, included below.
Mark Goes to France
Watch the second exclusive clip on the following page.