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September 10, 2004


Just when you thought you were getting over 9/11

Last night, PBS aired a new documentary called 9/11: A Tale of Two Towers, a poorly titled but amazing special show composed of interviews with several people who were in the towers when the planes hit. It appears to have been made for British television, and has been nominated for a BAFTA award (the UK's Oscars and Emmys). Since we're now on the third anniversary of those events, I assumed the documentary was old, and was getting brought out again this week for reairing. But it looks like this week is the US debut on Channel Thirteen, with other PBS stations showing it tomorrow. Check here for your local station air times.

We're all at different stages of emotional response to September 11, but let me just say that watching this show felt like having my guts ripped out. We all intellectually know what happened that day, but hearing lengthy, minute-by-minute personal accounts, and seeing still shots taken inside the stairwells as people were trying to escape, as well as all the video footage we've all seen a thousand times, made it much more real. The variety of people's experiences and their styles of storytelling is also surprising. One guy named Brian, who worked at Euro Brokers, has an incredibly heroic and grueling story to tell, but he relates the whole thing in a chipper, matter-of-fact, conversational tone that makes him sound like he is telling you about the summer he and his son built a deck on their house. His experience was challenging, sometimes frustrating, but ultimately rewarding and successful. His interviews are intercut with those of a young English woman who had only recently arrived in New York from the UK. She describes seeing a woman on the 83rd floor whose arm was half sliced off, then helping her the rest of the way down. The surreality and shock of the day really comes through.

Also striking is the seemingly random way people made decisions about whether to get out of the buildings, or whether to stay inside as they were instructed to do by emergency personnel. Many of the people who did escape spoke of feeling like they should wait and see what happened next. Many wanted to stay with injured colleagues until help arrived. It was often only a phone call from someone in the outside world that gave them perspective on the magnitude of what was happening, and convinced them that getting out of the building was the only option. As ADM once said, there must have been thousands of people standing at their windows in the South Tower, watching smoke and flames pour out of the North Tower, and thinking to themselves, "Well, I guess I'll just stay here and see what happens."

A lot of the footage also reminded me of just how cool those buildings were. Blah blah freedom tower, it will be a sorry replacement.

categories: TV
posted by amy at 12:11 PM | #