October 23, 2011 -- This emotional documentary film about the stages of grief, anger and recovery of people year by year after the 9/11 attacks in New York reminds me of Director Michael Apted's famous series of documentary TV shows following the same group of people at ages 21, 28, 35, 42 and 49. The last one was named “49 Up.” “Rebirth” similarly follows a group of people who were injured, physically or emotionally, by the 9/11 attacks in New York City. The same people are interviewed every year for eight years after the attacks, showing us how their lives changed over that time.
The film was funded by a non-profit corporation and the money raised by the film goes towards first responders and support communities, including those of future disasters. For more information about that, click on this link to projectrebirth.org. The film follows people who lost friends and loved ones in the attack, as well as one woman, Ling Young, a World Trade Center survivor of the attack who was badly burned, as she endures 40 operations to repair burns to her face, arms and hands.
The film's interviews (interviews and other film segments were done each year for eight years following the attack) follow a young man, Nicholas Chirls, whose mother was killed in the attack, a construction worker, Brian Lyons, whose brother Mike, a firefighter, was killed in the attack, a young woman (Tanya Villanueva Tepper) whose fiance was killed in the attack, and former firefighter Tim Brown, a man whose best friend and fellow fireman was killed in the attack.
Each of these people was affected differently by their loss and each took a different path towards healing in the years following the attack on the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001. After Chirls' father remarried he left home and joined the banking firm of Lehman Brothers, where his mother had worked. There he learned many new things about his mother. Eventually, he left the firm when he found that he didn't like the same kind of career his mother had. He was able to eventually reconnect with his father and move on with his life.
Brian Lyons toiled at the World Trade Center, helping to clear the site and then he helped to rebuild the site. He found the place where his brother had died trying to rescue people from the doomed towers. The site haunts him, but also provides healing for him. Lyons suffered from post traumatic stress which finally got better with time and treatment. Tim Brown seems to have had the worst time getting past the sorrow and anger he felt, but the passage of time did seem to help somewhat.
Tanya's sorrow at the loss of her fiance was the most visible of all the people interviewed. She was eventually able to recover and get on with her life, even if she did feel guilty about being able to be happy again. Her story is one of the most touching of all the people in the film. Her emotions are close to the surface, her tears are profuse.
Ling Young is perhaps the most interesting person in the group with a feisty, independent streak. Despite her Chinese ancestry, she is every inch the defiant New Yorker. At first, she is very angry and disappointed with how slow her burns respond to medical treatment. The burns at first seem to get worse instead of better. Her plans for travel are stymied. She feels helpless and useless. After some 40 operations, she gets back some of the use of her hands and arms affected by the burns. At first, the skin grafts don't work, but later operations work better. She is also profoundly affected by the people in a burn support group she belongs to, many of whom are far worse off than she is. She eventually comes to terms with her situation, takes back control of her own life and is glad she is a survivor and no longer a victim.
The people interviewed are profoundly honest and open about their feelings and are very articulate. The interviews are very moving and informative. Although the film was released this year, filming seems to have stopped around 2009. I would have liked to see the people at the World Trade Center memorial site when it was reopened recently, as well as when the new tower is finished. Maybe that can be added later in an updated DVD version of the movie. The film also has a lot of time-lapse imagery of the work at the World Trade Center site. Clearing of the site and construction of the new tower keep pace with the progress of the people in the film. There is also footage of people in the film during various public appearances and in other situations, such as construction work and other settings. One very striking image is that of Nicholas Chirls speaking at a memorial service about his mother when a wild bird lands on his head. He picks up the bird and holds it in his hand. The bird does not fly away while he holds it. “There is no way to explain that,” he said. “My mother was there,” he believes. This film rates a B.
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