HBO pro­duces doc­u­men­tary to help kids un­der­stand 9/11

18 years later, event has be­come his­tory for many younger peo­ple

Santa Fe New Mexican - - FRONT PAGE - By David Bauder

For stu­dents from el­e­men­tary to high school, the Sept. 11 ter­ror­ist at­tack isn’t a mem­ory. It’s his­tory. A new HBO doc­u­men­tary that de­buts on the event’s 18th an­niver­sary treats it that way.

The ne­ces­sity of her project, What Hap­pened on Sep­tem­ber 11, struck film­maker Amy Schatz when a third grade girl told her about a play­date where she and a friend Googled “Sept. 11 at­tacks.”

“When a child does that, what he or she finds are some pretty hor­rific im­ages that are not nec­es­sar­ily ap­pro­pri­ate for kids,” Schatz said Tues­day. “So I felt a re­spon­si­bil­ity to try to fill that void and try to give kids some­thing that isn’t hor­ri­fy­ing and kind of fills in the gap.”

The half-hour film de­buts at 6 p.m. Wed­nes­day. A com­pan­ion piece, fo­cus­ing on the mem­o­ries of for­mer stu­dents at a high school near Ground Zero, pre­mieres three hours later.

Schatz has made a spe­cialty of cre­at­ing films that seek to explain the in­ex­pli­ca­ble, with The Num­ber on Great-Grandpa’s Arm tack­ling the

You can’t pro­tect kids from what they’re go­ing to come across. It seemed to me there was an op­por­tu­nity to put some­thing out there that is age ap­pro­pri­ate and not too scary and give them the tools they need to un­der­stand the world around them.” Film­maker Amy Schatz

Holo­caust and another on the Park­land shoot­ing. “I’m re­ally des­per­ate for some more light­ness very soon,” she said.

In this case, she worked with the Sept. 11 re­mem­brance mu­seum on the story, film­ing two men who work there giving pre­sen­ta­tions to third graders. Stephen Kern, who worked on the 62nd floor of the World Trade Cen­ter’s North Tower, talks about be­ing evac­u­ated. Matthew Crawford, whose fa­ther was a fire­fighter who died that day, dis­cusses his ex­pe­ri­ence. She also found a mid­dle school in Se­cau­cus, N.J., that teaches his­tory through art and po­etry, help­ing stu­dents process the emotions of what they learned.

Short his­tory lessons are sprin­kled through­out the film, about New York and the World Trade Cen­ter, once the tallest tow­ers in the world. Con­struc­tion be­gan in 1968.

“One of the big­gest questions the kids have is ‘Why? ‘Why would some­body do that? Why would there be such cru­elty?’ ” she said. “That’s a very dif­fi­cult thing to grap­ple with and an­swer, so that was the trick­i­est part of the project.”

The film tells of Osama bin Laden and his ac­tivism that started with the Soviet Union’s in­va­sion of Afghanista­n. But it never truly an­swers the whys. Maybe no one can.

Schatz doesn’t avoid some of the ter­ri­ble im­ages of the day: the sec­ond plane strik­ing the World Trade Cen­ter and re­sul­tant fireball, the col­lapse of each tower and the gi­ant clouds of de­bris that bil­lowed through the canyons of city streets. Schatz didn’t want to avoid those clips, since kids know that planes crashed into the build­ings, but she opted not to spend much time on them “so that we didn’t cre­ate too many lin­ger­ing af­ter-im­ages in peo­ple’s minds.”

As part of her re­search, Schatz in­ter­viewed alumni of Stuyvesant High School near the World Trade Cen­ter site. But the mem­o­ries of what they saw, heard and smelled that day — and the un­cer­tainty of how they would get home from school — proved too raw. That’s why In the Shadow of the Tow­ers: Stuyvesant High on 9/11 is a sep­a­rate film that pre­mieres on HBO three hours af­ter the first one.

Schatz said a school cur­ricu­lum is be­ing de­vel­oped for teach­ing chil­dren about the tragedy, and What Hap­pened on Sep­tem­ber 11 will be made avail­able to schools for free. The film is aimed gen­er­ally at chil­dren ages 7 to 12.

Through­out her work, Schatz kept re­turn­ing to the mem­ory of the young­ster searching for de­tails about Sept. 11 on the in­ter­net.

“You can’t pro­tect kids from what they’re go­ing to come across,” she said. “It seemed to me there was an op­por­tu­nity to put some­thing out there that is age ap­pro­pri­ate and not too scary and give them the tools they need to un­der­stand the world around them.”


A New York City fire­man speaks to chil­dren in a scene from the doc­u­men­tary What Hap­pened on Sep­tem­ber 11, a short film aimed at peo­ple too young to re­mem­ber the at­tacks that at­tempts to explain them.

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