Tuesday, 13 September 2011

9/11: Ten Years Later (CBS)

This post is not really a review. It is more a commentary on a stunning documentary about 9/11. I urge you all to watch.

In 2001, two French film makers, Jules and Gedeon Naudet planned to make a documentary on a rookie fire-fighter, from his journey as a ‘probie’ to a fully qualified member of the New York Fire Department. That fire-fighter was Tony Benetatos, a young man who ‘always wanted to be a hero.’ For weeks, Benetatos’ moves were filmed by the Naudet brothers as he fought small fires throughout the city. Then, one September morning, at a routine gas leak call, Jules Naudet heard the roar of a jet engine. Pointing his camera to the sky, Jules captured the only piece of footage of American Airlines 11 slamming into the North Tower of the World Trade Centre. What followed was an unprecedented series of events that would change our world forever. Jules followed the fire-fighters as they arrived on the scene and as such, caught the only film recorded from inside the towers themselves. For two hours in 2002, CBS and BBC viewers sat glued to their screens when the Naudet’s film, 9/11, finally aired. Now, ten years on, with the memory of September 11th still as raw as ever in our minds, Jules and Gedeon Naudet have returned with an ‘extended edition’, a ‘catch up’ with the fire-fighters, documenting how 9/11 has changed their lives. What they uncovered were shocking stories of how that fateful day is still claiming lives and how many men are still living with ‘survivor’s guilt’ as well as stories of hope and courage.  

Ladder 1 is the focus of the Naudet's 9/11.
The aerial views of the Twin Towers’ collapse is disturbing as it is, yet the Naudet’s documentary taps into all of our fears because it offers a glimpse of the perspective from those on the ground. I suppose we could even go so far as to say that it gives the perspective of the firemen themselves. After all, few other documentaries, if any, managed to follow the heroes of that day as they desperately sought to save as many civilians as possible. Even if we cannot fully understand what happened and why, the Naudet’s film allows us to observe these horrors like no other piece of footage that exists.

Whilst the clean-up operation and aftermath of the attack is hinted at in 9/11, there’s no real exploration into the psychological repercussions of such an event and the toll it has taken on the men. Finally, 9/11: Ten Years Later approaches the subject with full force. The original documentary resisted from delivering any kind of political message to its audience. Ten Years Later changes that. The Naudet brothers return to Ladder 1 on Duane Street, only to hear that two of the firemen who featured prominently in their film, have died from cancer, which in turn has been linked to the toxic cloud of dust that covered New York for days. The Naudet’s follow up, then, is a response, if not an attack, to the idea that compensation will not be given for cancer related illnesses. It’s a blatant criticism of a Government that has let their service men down. These stories are overwhelmingly sad. Indeed, the original documentary is now so well known that these men almost feel like our acquaintances.

Joseph Casaliggi re-appears in Ten Years Later.
One of the firemen speaks of how he no longer works for the NYFD because of 9/11, how he is no longer married because of 9/11 and how he is haunted by 343 (the number of firemen who died that day). Although you cannot really ‘review’ a film like this, I must praise the Naudet brothers for raising awareness, for not letting us forget and for informing us about how these firemen are still suffering because of what they saw on September 11th. A number of fire-fighters, for example, admit that they drink more and that they are still going through counselling. Joseph Casaliggi returns to tell how he wakes up every day, wondering whether he will be told that he has a serious illness. The event, in a way, overshadows what follows. 9/11 itself was huge, but the individual stories of those who survived it are not told. We are not made aware. The Naudet brothers must be commended here for their efforts. 

Tony Benetatos, the 'probie.'
In contrast to this, however, there is still a message of hope that shines through the film. It may be a yearning for the unification that people felt in the days following the attacks but the Naudet brothers show how life can move on, and that we can still look forward whilst remembering the past. Joseph Pfeifer is now the Chief of Counter Terrorism. Tony Benetatos, the 'probie', is now a member of the Decontamination Unit of the fire service, a husband and father, while Dennis Tardio is a grandfather after retiring. Life, as they say, moves on.

The Naudet brothers, at the close of Ten Years Later, sum up what Nicholas Cage as John McLoughlin concludes at the end of Oliver Stone’s World Trade Centre: "9/11 showed us what human beings are capable of. The evil, yeah, sure. But it also brought out the goodness we forgot could exist. People taking care of each other for no other reason than it was the right thing to do. It's important for us to talk about that good, to remember. 'Cause I saw all of it that day."

9/11 is not a documentary that attempts to tell us why this event happened. It is purely a truthful account of a heroic group of men that worked together and made a sacrifice for their country. Ten Years Later offers us an insight into what these men went through after 9/11. If any documentary on 9/11 is worth watching, it’s this one.

Photos property of CBS and the Naudet Brothers: No infringement intended.


  1. The year 2001 should not be repeated

  2. Jules and Gedeon Naudet documentary was the best I have seen