Of all the documentaries about the events of September 11, 2011 that I have ever seen, this one is my favorite. No politics, no agenda, no speculation about the reasons or responses to the event. Just an utterly unique perspective on a terrible moment in our history.
Jules and Gedeon Naudet are two brothers from France, documentary filmmakers who spent the summer of 2001 filming what they thought would be a chronicle of how a New York City Firefighter is made: they followed one rookie through the academy and to his first posting, at Ladder 7, Engine 1 of the FDNY. They wanted to end the story with his first call to a big fire . . . and boy, did they.
Jules was out with the firemen checking a report of a gas lead about six blocks from World Trade Center 1 when the first plane hit. He was one of the very few cameramen to actually catch the first impact on film. Since they were so close, the fire truck he was with was the first unit on the scene. He entered the World Trade Center with Chief Pfieffer and his men and filmed the responders as they set up the command post inside the tower, with the sound of human bodies hitting the mezzanine level above them as many people, trapped by the flames, took the quick way out. He kept filming until the other tower collapsed, then filmed their escape just before the second building fell. Meanwhile, his brother at the fire house is filming the response to the calls from the WTC. The entire, horrible day, as well as the first part of the rescue operation, are chronicled here as they happened, with very little commentary.
I have seen this film many times, and I cry at the end . . . when the faces of the firefighters who died that day are scrolled across the screen while an Irish tenor sings "Oh Danny Boy." It is an annual moment of remembrance for me; it keeps the memory of that day alive and the horror and sorrow fresh in my mind. If you have never seen this film, you need to. It is the most moving documentary on any subject I have ever seen.