Now Showing: 9/11

Now Showing: 9/11

Dust and debris engulfed the streets of New York City. People risked their lives to save strangers from the wreckage. Families and friends clung together, praying for their loved ones.

In the meantime, cameras rolled and shutters closed.

Five years later, footage captured on September 11, 2001, is still being used to portray the tragedy and chaos of the day. Film-makers have incorporated images and videos into feature films and documentaries. Since the beginning of 2006, three September 11-themed films have made headlines.

A documentary titled “Saint of 9/11” was screened by the Boston Film Festival at the AMC Loews Theater Boston Common Monday. The movie was directed by Glen Holsten and narrated by Ian McKellen, known for his roles in the “X-Men” and “Lord of the Rings” trilogies.

It tells the story of The Rev. Mychal Judge, a Chaplain at the New York City Fire Department who died during the attacks. The film made its world premiere Aug. 27 at the Tribeca Film Festival in Lower Manhattan.

Clips of Judge’s charismatic sermons displayed the spirit behind the man who donated hundreds of coats, as well as food and money to homeless people in the city. Interviews with Judge’s friend unveiled someone who conquered alcoholism and depression, sought to protect homosexuals in the church and traveled to Northern Ireland in a peace effort.

The opening clips of the film show a peaceful New York City, with the sun reflecting off the gentle Hudson River waves. The silhouette of the Statue of Liberty symbolizes freedom, while a tranquil image of the World Trade Center reminds the audience of what the buildings once were.

The film cuts to an interview with Judge. He is discussing how he envisioned the last hour before his death, when he poignantly asks, “Will I be saving someone’s life?”

A fire engine flashes its lights as it pulls out of the fire department. A reporter’s voice, playing over the images of panic, describes an emergency situation. The familiar footage of the World Trade Center’s harrowing collapse is then shown with smoke pouring out of the sides. Upon hearing about the tragedy, Judge rushes to the scene, where he would become the seventeenth recorded victim of the attacks.

Brian Carroll, a NYFD firefighter, recounts the moment he saw Father Judge hurry to help the people at the World Trade Center. This was the last time they would speak before the Chaplain’s death.

“I remember saying, ‘Good luck and have a good day,'” he said.

Toward the end of “Saint of 9/11”, the funeral for Judge is shown. Former President Bill Clinton and Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton attend and speak fondly of the priest. Others describe the various ways Father Judge touched their lives.

The film played as a tribute to the deceased priest, rather than as an account of September 11. Footage of the attacks and their aftermath was featured at the beginning and end of the movie, with lush Irish landscapes and numerous interviews in between. Despite its title, “Saint of 9/11” gave the impression that the tragedy was an insignificant, almost irrelevant, part of Judge’s life.

This past year provided two other feature films documenting the incidents. Made on a low budget and in documentary style, “United 93,” was released April 28. The film, directed by Paul Greengrass, chronicled the events on the plane that crashed near Shanksville, Pa. The trailer for “United 93” featured news footage of the second plane crashing into the World Trade Center, and some audience members calling the film’s release “too soon.” Some theatres, such as the AMC Loews Lincoln Square 12 theatre in New York, reacted by pulling the trailer.

Released Aug. 9, “World Trade Center” told the stories of two September 11 survivors, John McLoughlin and Will Jimeno. Directed by Oliver Stone, the film starred Nicolas Cage, Michael Pena, Maria Bello and Maggie Gyllenhaal. The film was made on a budget of about $63 million, according to, and has received criticism for its blockbuster approach.

Each film donated a percentage of its opening weekend income to September 11 charities.

Reliving the day so clearly branded onto the national conscience has brought mixed emotions.

At a remembrance vigil for the attacks’ five-year anniversary Monday in Krentzman Quad, documentary filmmaker Ric Burns questioned whether images of the attacks would lessen the meaning of the day.

“We can’t continue to revisit and relive the events of the day as if to do so as a vision unto itself,” he said. “And in that respect, recent representations of 9/11, some of which are still in a theatre near you, aren’t really helping us.”

John Casey, a sophomore undecided major, said it was not necessary to make these movies.

“It sort of depends on the movie, but if I’m thinking of a normal dramatized 9/11 movie, I don’t think there’s any need for it,” he said. “I think it’s very Hollywood-ized and just trying to capitalize and make money off something that maybe they shouldn’t be.”

Other students, such as Ashley Cunha, said the films would help inform people about the terrorist attacks.

“I feel that it’s a good way to see what happened in their perspective so that you understand more fully the extent of the damages,” said Cunha, a middler civil engineering major.

Donnie Dixon, a law school student, said while he didn’t object to 9/11 films, he did not have the urge to see them.

“I kind of don’t want to be reminded of what happened. I still have a pretty vivid memory of [it],” he said. “Even though I don’t think it’s wrong for movies to come out now and I think a lot of people are interested in seeing them, personally I’d rather not have to deal with it again on TV or film.”

-Staff reporter Chris Estrada

contributed to this report.

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