Numerous programs mark 20th anniversary of 9/11 attacks

Rick's Reviews

An aerial view of ground zero burning after the September 11 terrorist attacks. (Photo Credit: NIST)

Between now and Sept. 11, there will be a wide variety of television productions marking the 20th anniversary of the attacks at the World Trade Center and Pentagon. These offerings range from a visual documentation of what happened that day to how the attacks impacted those who weren’t even born at that time.

“9/11: One Day in America” is a six-episode, four-night event slated to start at 9 p.m. Aug. 31 on the National Geographic Channel. It was produced in official collaboration with the 9/11 Memorial & Museum.

The docuseries is told only in first-person narrative that chronicles, at times minute-by-minute, the events of that day from the perspectives of first responders and survivors who were there. In addition, the filmmaking team sifted through 951 hours of archival footage to create a look at how that fateful day 20 years ago unexpectedly and tragically impacted so many lives while uniting strangers together to save one another at all costs. 

One of those who provides a first-person account is Ron DiFrancesco who is the last known person to escape the South Tower.

He says, “I think this documentary helps if it brings people back to the days of 9/11 and saw the good in people, then we can maybe go back there at one point and look back on how good people were right after that event and maybe we can get there once again”

DiFrancesco also knows reliving that day can be very painful. When he visited the 9/11 Memorial & Museum with his family, he found seeing the artifacts and hearing the sounds of the day created a very raw emotional experience for him.

One of the people who lived through all of the sights and sounds was Joseph Pfeifer. The former assistant chief of the New York City Fire Department was the first person in charge after the initial plane hit the Towers.

His role as a contributor was to make sure that the heroism of so many is not forgotten.

“What I look for that day is signs of hope,” Pfeifer says. “As I look at the faces of the first responders and the people in that building, not only can you see their fear of what was taking place, but you saw people together trying to get out.  And I think that’s what we see in this documentary, those stories of people caring for one another.”

A staggering statistic from the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001 is that there were more than 100 expectant fathers who were killed. Two decades later, their children are coming of age and their stories are being told through the PBS production “Generation 9/11.” It debuts at 9 p.m. Aug. 31 on Valley PBS.

The documentary focuses on the stories of seven children whose fathers died that day and reveals how an entire generation was shaped by the tragedy and its aftermath. The production combines new footage, family photos and home archives.

Researchers spent months identifying all the individual stories and eventually narrowed the focus to a small cross-section of children. How the children of those lost during 9/11 deal with the events of that day are varied. Some prefer to read all they can to get a better understanding. Others rarely talk about it.

One of the Generation 9/11 subjects, Nick Gorki, has not done a lot of extra research but has an understanding of what happened through what he learned in school.

His mother, Paula, worked in the South Tower, but on 9/11, her morning sickness made her late to work, and she narrowly missed the crash. Her partner, Sebastian, had a meeting in the North Tower and did not survive.

Gorki says, “I don’t find myself really going out of my way to read stuff about it online. Maybe I will stumble across something that I find interesting and I’ll read a little bit about it, but it is very rare that I go out of my way to find information about the subject.”

He feels like he has learned more about what happened in recent years because of this documentary and interviews he has done.

Dina Retik, another one of the subjects of the film, lost her father when he was killed on hijacked American Airlines Flight 11. She spends a lot of time on the Internet trying to find out as much as she can in regards to that day.

“I think the whole public versus private experience of 9/11 is so interesting to me because there’s questions I can’t ask online, like things about my dad, but that I can find out general facts about 9/11 online so easily,” Retik says. “Sometimes it’s hard to navigate what I want to learn.

“It definitely kind of comes in waves, my interest in 9/11.I remember being really curious one time why 9/11 is called 9/11 and it doesn’t have a name, it is just like the date. So that’s something, just a little thing, little facts that interest me sometimes.”

A long list of TV producers and executives are certain there is enough interest in that day to warrant all of the specialty programming.

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