I know I don’t need to tell you what today is. 20 years. Everyone remembers.
In 2002, artist Ruth Sergel set up a plywood video booth, inviting people, including eye witnesses of the attacks, from New York City, Washington, D.C., and Shanksville, PA to share their experiences. It wasn’t an interview; people stepped into the booth, hit a button, and shared whatever was in their hearts, as much as they could. Directors Bjørn Johnson and David Belton sifted through that raw footage and cobbled together an emotional tribute to that horrible, fateful day, telling the story from personal, intimate accounts of what it was like to survive that day, to lose on that day, to live through that day. As Johnson puts it: “the human story behind the tragedy.”
“Enjoy” is not the right word, but I did appreciate the film. It’s rather affecting to hear people speak from such a raw place, the wound not yet scabbed over. But for Memory Box: Echoes of 9/11, the filmmakers go one step further, building a new box but asking back the same people, people will revisit those wounds 20 years later and find them, if not exactly healed, then scarred at least. The tragedy is not so immediate, the emotions not so high. The people – survivors/victims/witnesses – have had time to reflect. To grow as people, to move on as casualties.
The box itself evokes the confessional, and inside, people admitted to guilt, grief, rage and resilience. We sit with them – the grieving parents, the young widower, the first responder, etc – and we hear their unfiltered stories. There are plenty of gruesome images in the media of that day; this documentary focuses not on what people saw that day, but what they felt. Like One World Trade Center (Freedom Tower) now standing in lower Manhattan, these testimonials form a de facto memorial, a living memorial, not just to people and places, but to the way the world used to be.
Memory Box: Echoes of 9/11 is an official selection of TIFF21.
Look for it on NBC/Peacock.
If you’d like some way to mark the occasion without dredging up so many painful memories, Apple TV has Come From Away, an uplifting Broadway musical about the best of humanity on that tragic day.