“9/11 Ten Years Later” is a documentary by Gédéon Naudet and Jules Naudet who had been embedded with a section of firefighters in New York City to cover the training of a rookie, Antonio. Friends of firefighter James Hanlon, the French brothers had planned to follow a theme of “a boy becomes a man” in recording the team.
Light hearted pranks and a steep learning curve consisting mainly of cooking and cleaning duties for the “probie” – so much so, that the Naudet brothers even asked when the new recruit would get to see any action at a fire. They were told by the bosses “be careful what you wish for”. Antonio did get to douse a small car fire shortly before the work of the fire house was changed forever by the events of 11th September 2001.
The brothers took cameras right into the heart of the disaster, filming images of the lobby in Tower 1 before the second plane even hit and showing how firefighters set up communications and scaled the stairs to the burning floors. Short of showing bodies, the film charts the death of the Fire Department chaplain, records the sound of people hitting the pavement after jumping out of the burning buildings and the camera hits the floor on more than one occasion as the buildings collapse.
The astonishing footage amounts to a real life disaster movie, even recording the disbelief of those watching the first plane hit the World Trade Centre, who ask in despair how the people on the top floors are going to get out. A local café became a makeshift medical centre and local people volunteer their supplies. Antonio goes missing as he joins a retired fire chief who shows up at the fire house, both eager to help colleagues at the site.
Afterwards, the firemen describe how the clean-up operation was frustratingly interrupted by warnings of structural collapse and efforts to clear bodies were painfully inadequate for the magnitude of the loss. One man described Ground Zero as “walking into hell”.
Subsequent interviews feature the men as they tried to come to terms with the enormity of the attack that evening and for the following years. Emotional trauma, alcohol, marriage breakdown and diseases associated with the toxins from the clean up site have all ravaged the lives of the first responders.
“9/11: Ten Years On” will be aired on the UK National Geographic channel at 9pm on 7th September 2011 for UK audiences.