EDITORS NOTE: Filmmaker Steven Rosenbaum‘s “7 Days in September,” the critically acclaimed documentary about the days after September 11th, is one of five films about 9/11 that are being screened via SnagFilms’ first annual “September 11th Remembrance in Film” program, which also includes National Geographic‘s “Afghanistan Revealed,” Beth Murphy‘s “Beyond Belief,” Glenn Holsten‘s “Saint of 9-11,” and Danny Schechter‘s “We Are Family.” And just added, ahead of 9/11, was Susanna Styron‘s “9/12 : From Chaos To Community. The films are available in their entirety, without commercial interruption, on both http://www.snagfilms.com and indieWIRE today and September 12th, 2008. And, SnagFilms is matching all viewer contributions during the Remembrance Week (Full press release).
I don’t remember when JFK was assassinated.
I have a dim memory of watching a blurry TV when we took our first step on the moon.
But on 9/11 I can tell you precisely where I was, what I was doing, and what I thought and felt.
So can you.
You and I are members of the 9/11 Generation. Your children and children’s children will think of you that way.
It’s an uncomfortable label, full of undeniable truths that we’ve spent the last 7 years trying to escape.
Each of us has a personal story, memories and feelings that we’ve pushed into a corner. The drumbeat to ‘move on’ is natural, perhaps essential. But I’d gently suggest that you make sure that your story isn’t lost or forgotten, as both historians and your grandchildren will hunger for it one day.
In that spirit, here’s my story.
I’m a filmmaker. I listen, record, and organize memories into tapestries and timelines. I’ve done it all my life.
On September 11th, I was the CEO of a film and television production company. I arrived at work with the customary laundry list of to-do’s. The truth was that as my company had grown large, I’d become less of a filmmaker and more of a manager of day to day operations. As a big company, with lots of details, the storytelling was often left to others.
Then, a plane flew into the World Trade Center.
I remember the jolt, the spike of fire in the blistering blue sky. Photographers and producers who worked with me back then were stopped in their tracks.
Then, the second plane. I think there are literally millions of people – maybe tens of millions – who shared in the collective shudder. We knew it was over. Whatever that era was, a page turned. The stunning impact of the attack didn’t take a Historian or a Journalist or a Politician to explain – we all knew. Our lives would change, the world would change, and there was a painful awakening that shook us all.
Seven years later – I’m driving with my now 18 year old son Max on his way to start his freshman year at college. We’re walking back through his life, reliving good times and challenges. Fun we’ve had, and the journey he’s about to embark on. And I flash back to a walk we took on September 15th, a trip hand in hand to Union Square where New Yorkers had gathered to morn and protest, sing, and cry. He was 11 years old. For a moment I feel a pang of guilt. Did I take him there to help him understand what had happened, or to shield myself from the realities I was trying to come to grips with. We’d brought a video camera, and we recorded the brass trumpet glinting in the fall sunlight. He held the camera. We walked to a firehouse, and he shook a fireman’s hand, not entirely sure why. And then, standing in front of a park fence covered with ‘missing’ posters and peace signs – he told me and the camera that he felt that the proper response to the attacks was not to attack, but to turn the other cheek. To respond to anger with love. He was 11. He knew that.
I’m not sure it’s anything that I ever taught him, or even at that moment even believed.
Back in the car, I ask him if he remembers that walk, and if he’s angry that I exposed him rather than shielded him from the pain of 9/11. He’s gentle, even generous. Thanking me for finding a soft sunny day to let him connect with the emotions of the time. I’m privately relieved, but whether he’s scarred by our walk or not hardly matters. He’s scarred by 9/11 – as are all kids his age. Too young to rationalize, to old to ignore, he is the first generation of children born with the knowledge that buildings fall down, that passenger planes are weapons, that America is both envied and reviled in the world.
At 10:27 a.m. on September 11th, 2001 – I decided to make a film. It was called “7 Days In September” and it was about that day and the week after the attacks. I knew intuitively that a week would be all we’d need. That the direction of things would be set. That the “post-9/11” world, as Dick Cheney so lovingly calls it, would be set in motion.
Max is in the film, his squeaky pre-pubescent voice a caricature of the broad-shouldered young man he has become. So is Rasheed Daniel’s breathtaking video of a fierce argument in Union Square that dissolves in tears. And Postal Worker Rob Santana’s heartbreaking story of the two ‘twins’ – both doomed to fall, Gary Pollard’s haunting smoke filled office lobbies, Brian Gately’s home video shot from a private plane flying around the World Trade Center, King Molapo’s lilting South African street level video, and Alan Roth’s personal dislike of the Towers and what he felt they stood for. These are New Yorkers. Their stories. Their images. Their memories.
Preserved, organized, woven together.
On 9/11 – I did what I felt I had to. I gathered. Cataloged. Remembered. Tiny moments, recollections, observations. Images of a tiny bird, lost and wandering on a sidewalk. The god-awful smell that permeated Manhattan for days and then weeks after the buildings came down. The flags, the tears, the fear, and the strange resilient solidarity that made stockbrokers, street peddlers and steelworkers into New Yorkers in a very new way.
Back on our trip, we drive through the College entrance, under the balloons welcoming the class of 2012. And I wonder when the right time will be for me to talk about 9/11 with my younger son, soon to turn 11. His brother experienced it as it happened, is 11 to soon, or too late? I know one day he’ll watch the film, see his brother, wince reflexively as the planes hit the towers, and ask me questions about what happened and why. I’ll tell him my story. It’s mine to share.
You’ve got a story too.
You’ve witnessed a moment in History. Your story matters. Your children want to hear it. Their children will ask you to retell it.
I’ve chosen to keep, protect, and embrace the memories of 9/11 in all of its pain and complexity. How you manage your memories is, of course, up to you.
Your story is woven into the past and the future.
You are a member of the 9/11 Generation.
ABOUT THE WRITER: Steven Rosenbaum is the Director of “7 Days In September” and the Chief Curator of the CameraPlanet Archive, a collection of more than 400 hours of 9/11 archival video. Mr. Rosenbaum is the CEO of Magnify.net, a web video platform that allows video to be shared and curated around collections of shared interests.