"..we are making a documentary about a fire fighter.."
"Come on. This ain't fucking Disneyland. Let's go."
Made-for-television documentary of the attacks on the World Trade Center in New York City on September 11 2001.
In mid-2001 French film makers and brothers Gédéon Naudet and James Hanlon started making a documentary on a New York City fireman rookie named Tony undertaking his probationary period. The summer passes and to his great disapointment he fights nothing more challenging than a single automobile ablaze. Then one day as another part of the station investigates a suspect gas leak, one of the hijacked aircraft flies low and fast overhead and hits one of the towers. This is captured on film by Gédéon, one of only two pieces of film of the first attack.
Gédéon then accompanies the firefighters to the World Trade Center, where a base is set up in the lobby of the other tower. He accompanies Fire Chief Joseph Pfiefer, who coordinates rescue and firefighting work with several other fire crews. The second plane then hits the tower he is in, sending debris and bodies falling from outside. With elevators out of action, sprinkler systems totally inadequate and people barely comprending the magnitude of the challenge, the fire crews appear frustrated. After the first tower collapses, Chief Pfeifer sends the order to evacuate, just before the second collapses. Gédéon and the crew are twice submered in a surrealistic sea of dust and paper; these are the most compelling scenes.
Meanwhile Tony is left at the fire station. James films the rookie being so frustrated that he is unable to fight the fire that he considers abandoning his post. After the towers collapse in the back of his mind James is seriously concerned about what has happened to his brother. Eventually they reunite when the (almost) casualty free fire crew return, with much back slapping and hugging following. Much which follows consists of searching "the pile" for signs of bodies, and much emoting from individual members of the fire crew about the magnitude of the tragedy.
It was broadcast on CBS as part of a fundraising exercise, compared by Robert De Niro. Unfortunately out of the hands of the French brothers the documentary was re-editted with unnecessary stylised features more becoming of a cheap current affair show: incessant soft piano playing, voice overs stating the bleeding obvious and important scenes that are suddenly interrupted by yet another witness account of a firefighter retelling what we are actually trying to concentrate on. Yet the other side of the argument is to wonder if a totally clinical and objective portrayal of what happened is equally inappropriate.