Movie Reviews

Review of the Documentary 9/11: Many Years Later, Reflections

I am a New Yorker

There have been many essays circulating the Internet since the events of September 11, 2001. One of the really good ones was with that title. (For an excellent site with that poem on it:

In my case, I am a native New Yorker. I was born in Manhattan and grew up my whole life on the Nassau side of the border with the City on Long Island. My father worked for “the phone company” as it was known then – there weren’t dozens of companies that there are now. He worked at West Street, across from the Towers for quite a number of years, and I can remember going in at Christmastime with him for the office Christmas party and staring in awe at the structures rising up to the heavens in the cold December air.

I’ve lived my entire life in the shadow of the city. Both my father and my spouse worked in the City for many years.

I am a New Yorker

As that poem states, there are “New Yorkers” in every state, and some true New Yorkers are not natives like me; some have been adopted into this city. This is the case with filmmakers Gedeon and Jules Naudet.

The two French brothers had set out to make a documentary about what it took to become a firefighter in New York City. They chose their subject, Tony Benetatos, and began filming in the spring of 2001.

It’s odd the twists and turns our lives take. As is stated in the narration by fellow firefighter James Hanlon, every rookie firefighter yearns for his first test – that first big fire he gets to be a part of. All summer long, Tony and the filmmakers waited for that fire to happen, but it never came. None of them knew what loomed on the horizon, as Tony’s fire station was in the shadow of those two towers.

More than just a documentary of that terrible day, this also shows the camaraderie of the firemen. The Naudets shot so much footage prior to that day, and they managed to incorporate those feelings into this documentary. The downtime is there; the time spent just waiting. It takes a special type of person to cope with that, always sort of waiting for “the other shoe to drop” and not knowing what the outcome will be.

If you’ve seen the footage of the first plane hitting the towers (the only footage of that known for quite some time), then you’ve seen part of what this team produced. They were with the Engine Company 7 trucks investigating an oxygen leak when it happened.

At that point, their footage turns into something else.

When this documentary was first to be aired on CBS, I didn’t know if I’d be able to get through it. My husband had been at the Trade Center fifteen minutes before the disaster, and we lost a friend and a family member who were firefighters that day. I had heard quite a bit about Fox News footage that had been located of these two going into the tower (they were in the same Manhattan fire company, something we never knew until after this). I knew that I had a yearning to see that footage, so would I be able to watch this?

I have to say the Naudet’s documentary is very tastefully done. Any trepidation I felt going in went by the wayside quickly. The first half-hour is dedicated to the firefighters and setting up the emotional investment people will feel with this particular fire company and Tony Benetatos.

There is some very disturbing footage here, however, Although it is never shown on camera, once Jules Naudet enters Tower 1 (the North Tower; the first hit, the last to come down) with the firemen and his camera, there are loud bangs heard at intervals. At first, what I thought was glass blowing out actually turned out to be the sound of people jumping to their deaths rather than being consumed by the fire above. Although no bodies are actually shown, the sound is unnerving.

Naudet has captured a real feeling of what it was like in the Towers that day after they had been struck. There is no film that will be made about that day that can ever match what he has captured here; from the people evacuating the building through the lobby to the horror and confusion on the firefighters’ faces as Tower 2 (the South Tower; the second hit and the first to come down) collapses, but they do not know what has happened – just something terrible.

When the second tower comes down, all that seems to be left is finding out who from the firehouse is still alive. The Naudet brothers are of as much concern as are all of the firefighters. In this way, they conveyed the feeling that many families had in those days and weeks following September 11, 2001. While in the documentary, they only had to wait until the end of the day to learn who would return to the firehouse, for many others, it was days and weeks of hoping for the best, but expecting the worst. The film managed to put me in touch with that feeling.

The filmmakers continued filming in the days following September 11, 2001. There are scenes of the rubble and of the firefighters looking at what is a daunting task. The Naudet brothers talk about how they already were feeling a special bond between themselves and the firefighters before this day, but now that bond with them – and this city – has been cemented forever. Yes, they are New Yorkers now, just as much as I am.

The DVD also contains some extra footage, although after viewing it the three times I have since I purchased it, I don’t know the difference between the original footage aired on CBS and what was added to the DVD. There is also a set of interviews with the firemen seen throughout the documentary which runs about an hour long. In it, they reflect on their memories and feelings of the events of that day.

More than any documentary I’ve seen since that day – and there have been many – this captures the emotion of those terrible events. In my faith, I believe things happen for a reason. I believe that the Jules and Gedeon Naudet came to be where they were two years ago for a reason, and that was to historically record these events and present them to future generations. They managed to do that and present the footage without seeming to exploit the tragedy, in my opinion. My oldest daughter, who was 12 at the time, watched this with me and saw the images I saw while she was in school that day. It was something she could handle watching and provided a great deal of discussion time between the two of us.

3 replies »

    • I remember everything that day so well, even all these years later. I’ll work on posting that. I didn’t feel safe in New York anymore after that. It was really hard just living there – that was one of the reasons I wanted to move.

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