9/11 EXPLAINED. A New York City firefighter speaks to children
in a scene from the documentary What Happened on September 11,
a short film aimed at young people to explain to them what
happened on September 11, 2001. (HBO via AP)
From The Asian Reporter, V29, #18 (September 16,
2019), page 9.
HBO produces documentary to help kids
By David Bauder
The Associated Press
NEW YORK ó For students from elementary to high school, the
September 11 terrorist attack isnít a memory. Itís history. A
new HBO documentary that debuted on the eventís 18th anniversary
treats it that way.
The necessity of her project, What Happened on September
11, struck filmmaker Amy Schatz when a third-grade girl told
her about a playdate where she and a friend googled "Sept. 11
"When a child does that, what he or she finds are some pretty
horrific images that are not necessarily appropriate for kids,"
Schatz said. "So I felt a responsibility to try to fill that
void and try to give kids something that isnít horrifying and
kind of fills in the gap."
The half-hour film debuted on September 11. A companion
piece, focusing on the memories of former students at a high
school near Ground Zero, premiered three hours later.
Schatz has made a specialty of creating films that seek to
explain the inexplicable, with The Number on Great-Grandpaís
Arm tackling the Holocaust and another on the Parkland
shooting. "Iím really desperate for some more lightness very
soon," she said.
In this case, she worked with the September 11 remembrance
museum on the story, filming two men who work there giving
presentations to third-graders. Stephen Kern, who worked on the
62nd floor of the World Trade Centerís North Tower, talks about
being evacuated. Matthew Crawford, whose father was a
firefighter who died that day, discusses his experience. She
also found a middle school in Secaucus, New Jersey, that teaches
history through art and poetry, helping students process the
emotions of what they learned.
Short history lessons are sprinkled throughout the film,
about New York and the World Trade Center, the one-time tallest
towers in the world. Construction began in 1968.
"One of the biggest questions the kids have is why? ĎWhy
would somebody do that? Why would there be such cruelty?í" she
said. "Thatís a very difficult thing to grapple with and answer
so that was the trickiest part of the project."
The film tells of Osama bin Laden and his activism that
started with the Soviet Unionís invasion of Afghanistan. But it
never truly answers the whys. Maybe no one can.
Schatz doesnít avoid some of the terrible images of the day:
the second plane striking the World Trade Center and resultant
fireball, the collapse of each tower, and the giant clouds of
debris that billowed through the canyons of city streets. Schatz
didnít want to avoid those clips, since kids know that planes
crashed into the buildings, but she opted not to spend much time
on them "so that we didnít create too many lingering
after-images in peopleís minds."
As part of her research, Schatz interviewed alumni of
Stuyvesant High School near the World Trade Center site. But the
memories of what they saw, heard, and smelled that day ó and the
uncertainty of how they would get home from school ó proved too
raw. Thatís why In the Shadow of the Towers: Stuyvesant High
on 9/11 is a separate film that premiered on HBO three hours
after the first one.
Schatz said a school curriculum is being developed for
teaching children about the tragedy, and What Happened on
September 11 will be made available to schools for free. The
film is aimed generally at children seven through 12 years old.
Throughout her work, Schatz kept returning to the memory of
the youngster searching for details about September 11 on the
"You canít protect kids from what theyíre going to come
across," she said. "It seemed to me there was an opportunity to
put something out there that is age-appropriate and not too
scary and give them the tools they need to understand the world