The morning of September 11, 2001, will never be forgotten by anyone who lived through it. National Geographic’s 9/11: One Day in America does an amazing job of capturing the events of that day, not in a political or analytical way, but in a human, personal, touching way. The six-part limited series will premiere August 29 on NatGeo and the next day on Hulu.
As the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attack on America approached, filmmakers Dan Lindsay and T.J. Martin (LA 92, Undefeated) set out to capture the events of that day so that those too young to remember, and those beginning to forget, could be taken back to experience that most significant moment in recent American history. Three years in production and drawing on over 200 hours of archival footage, the documentary focuses on telling the experiences of the people involved.
No Politics nor Narration
National Geographic previewed episode two and followed it up with an interview with the filmmakers and two of the survivors who appeared in that episode. The non-political nature of the event was, ironically, emphasized by including politicians. President George W. Bush and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer both spoke before the premiere to emphasize the non-partisan nature of the event.
After the film, Linsey Davis of ABC News led the discussion. The panelists included filmmakers T.J. Martin and Producer Caroline Marsden, and series subjects NYFD EMT Frank Puma and office worker Kathy Comerford.
During the discussion, Executive Producer T.J. Martin emphasized a surprising element of the film’s structure. There is no narration or discussion of building engineering or other voiceover commentary. Martin observed, “If you have a narrator, then you start to guide the audience from the filmmakers’ perspective. The purpose was to give insight into the experiences of the people who were there. We wanted to understand how Frank and Kathy processed this. Having a narrator would have cluttered it.”
I, like many others, have vivid memories of that day. The film, however, gave me a new perspective. Both Comerford and Puma gave minute-by-minute descriptions of their experiences.
Comerford talked about what it was like on the inside. What thoughts went through her head. What decisions she made and why. She shared that she had talked about 9/11 for another film, but this was different. “This was just me,” she said. “It allowed me to feel things I hadn’t felt in a long time. I recalled decisions. If you took a left turn you lived. If you took a right turn you died.”
She also recalled her determination not to let the building get between her and her children. “I didn’t make it home until 3 o’clock and until they saw me, my husband and kids had no idea if I was alive. When I got to them, I just collapsed. Our family motto now is ‘Be Thankful’.”
A New EMT
Puma recalled that he was a relatively new EMT on 9/11, only 21 years old. He recounted stories of moving from body to body trying to help people and of the horrible things he saw. Sometimes, the events still haunt him. He recounted that one day when driving his daughter to school, a song came on the radio. For some reason, he wasn’t sure why, the words brought him back to 9/11 and he began to cry.
Comerford mentioned how she can be at a dance or athletic event and when she feels the floor vibrate, it takes her back to standing in the World Trade Center and feeling the floors shake when the planes hit the buildings.
Puma addressed the filmmakers: “Thank you for letting me be a part of this and thank you for doing all of it. There are people still suffering, and this film will let them know that there are people out there who can help.”
Producer Marsden said, “When we set out to do this, we weren’t interested in what decisions people made, that’s just what we came across. That and that sense of reality on the ground. Both Kathy and Frank told beautiful stories of people helping one another.”
There are many more stories from that day. You can watch a preview of the 9/11: One Day in America below. If you’d like to know more about the 9/11 Memorial and Museum, check their website.