Judge Michael Nazarewycz will never forget.
Our review of 7 Days In September, published October 4th, 2004, is also available.
"It's like two people inside me—one horrified, the other fascinated."
The terrorist attacks of 9/11 are one of those generation-defining moments that happens every other decade or so—a "Where were you when…?" moment. I was home when it happened, and although I was fortunate to have not suffered a close loss, like many people I still have a personal connection to that day: a former grade school classmate was a flight attendant on one of the planes.
I was unemployed on 9/11, so I had plenty of time to sit in front of a TV and consume the endless cable news coverage for days. Over the coming year, I watched everything I could find on TV, and on the first anniversary I relived the day—as it occurred down to the minute (thanks to that same cable news outlet). Since then, I have limited my exposure to the events of that day to something small on the anniversary, I think mostly because I was so immersed in it that first year. I've never intentionally avoided the subject since then, but I've certainly not proactively sought anything out. When the opportunity to screen this DVD presented itself, I thought maybe this time being proactive was the way to go.
Facts of the Case
Bookended by a prologue of memories of the World Trade Center when it stood tall in New York City, and an epilogue of thoughts and images "Six Months Later," 7 Days in September looks at the 9/11 attack on New York City over exactly that span of time: the one day that terrorists took out the towers and the six days that followed.
The story is told by 29 different filmmakers who grabbed their cameras on that terrible day and during that fateful week. It goes beyond what you normally see in televised 9/11 remembrance packages and gives you a "you are there" look at the attacks, the panic and paranoia that follow, the heartbreak as the missing don't return, the solidarity of a city, the xenophobia and jingoism that peek their heads out, and the resolve of those ready to move forward.
It seems counterintuitive to say that a good story can be told from 29 points of view in only 94 minutes. You want to say that there are too many voices and that they will ultimately drown each other out or make things confusing. But the benefit of having so many voices in such little time is that it forces those voices to stay on point—to state their facts and express some feelings but do little else. This is the key to the success of the excellent 7 Days in September: no one has time (or is given the time) to speculate or, worse, politicize.
The approach also allows for maximum "coverage" of the story, so not only do you get different perspectives of the same moment, you get moments you might never had known existed. On several occasions as I watched this film, I found myself surprised at something I didn't know that I thought was impressive enough to have warranted greater media coverage. For example, I didn't know there was a subway full of people who emerged (after the attack) into a street full of chaos and and who had no idea what had happened because they were underground. I also didn't know about the veterinary triage set up to comfort search dogs or the use of a tour yacht to feed/house workers and firefighters. There are other examples, too. With one documentarian or a handful of reporters, you wouldn't get all of that. With 29 people? Yeah.
Director Steve Rosenbaum (producer of American Teen) then takes it a step further. Because he is covering seven days from so many perspectives, he doesn't have time to dwell on subjects, either. It would have been easy to front-load the film with more shocking footage of the moments of impact, but he's shrewd enough to know that's been done (and really, seeing the second tower take a hit and watching a person jump to their death is more than enough to make the point). With so many things happening over the first week, there is more than enough compelling material to keep the viewer highly engaged.
Deftly edited by Marc Senter, the absence of any time markers other than what day it is and the rare clock, combined with the constant shifts in perspective and location and story and even video quality and narrative keep you a little dazed and wondering what you will bear witness to next. The final result makes you feel like you were a first-person witness to this terrible history and its chaotic aftermath.
There is very little footage shot specifically for this film. Other than on-screen interviews with the filmmakers, the film is completely comprised of those filmmakers' submissions they filmed on and immediately after 9/11. That being said, I was quite surprised that the 1.78:1 anamorphic image presentation of those interviews is as soft as it is. In fact, some of the 9/11 footage submitted by the filmmakers is of noticeably higher quality than the headshots taken for the interviews. The rest of the video is presented as-is, but given that every shot was less than a year old when preserved to this doc (which was originally released in 2002), it all looks good.
The Dolby 5.1 audio track is another story. It's fantastic. Transitioning among more than two dozen sources of sound, many of which have competing noise within them, is no easy task and this DVD gets it done (particularly the fire and police sirens, which just cut right through you). It also shines in sound where it fails in image—the filmmaker interviews. Each voice sounds full and rich as each filmmaker recalls their time.
The only extra offered on the DVD is a silent, five-minute slideshow of stills. Where the film is chronologically structured, the photos are conversely random. They include stills form the aftermath, the construction of the memorial, items pulled from the wreckage, and so on. As much as I try to avoid "I wish they had…" statements, well, I wish they had included bios on the filmmakers, or "Where are they now?" pieces.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
The score detracts from the film. There are times that haunting music is used over scenes that indeed look haunting, but the addition of the music makes it feel like the filmmakers are trying to force the issue. Also, late in the film, a saxophone leads the music and it sounds like it was ripped from a direct-to-video '80s action B-movie. As for the filmmakers' submissions, the only one that felt inorganic (contrived, really) was the segment about the affect of 9/11 on children. One 12-year-old subject, who I'm sure is a swell kid, rambled directly into the camera with what sounded like coached talking points.
For all of the media's access and outlets, you cannot beat the independent viewpoint, especially from someone who lived it. These people are not pundits or politicians or TV haircuts who are pushing agendas or being paid to speak at us. These are our fellow citizens who have shared something very personal with us, and it makes all the difference. If I were putting together an "Intro to 9/11" course, 7 Days in September would be a mandatory study requirement.
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