After September 11th the media returned quickly to celebrities and the Dow, while director, Jim Whitaker, has been following our nation’s tragedy meticulously through the ten people’s lives changed irrevocably by the collapse of the twin towers. Project Rebirth intimately focuses on the lives of four victims/survivors backdropped by the evolution of the site at ground zero. Over the course of nine years, each person’s private, psychological and emotional grief provides the arc as they and we cope with the aftermath of the attacks. The personal perspectives include: a fireman who lost his entire crew, a construction worker who lost his brother who was a firefighter, a fiancé who lost the love of her life, and a teenage son who lost his mother who was working on the 104th floor. We each have a story from the events of September 11, 2001; Project Rebirth offers each of us the opportunity to process our grief, anger, and hardships through the intimate, honest portrayal of these four lives and losses.
The gorgeous cinematography captures the fireman shifting on his feet in the shadows of the service honoring his best friend. Clearly a body and soul feeling out of place and not worthy of living, these shots make palpable the intense remorse and survival’s guilt that nearly crushes him. Unapologetic footage and interview reels, expose the trials of a survivor and burn victim who undergoes over 40 surgeries in order to partially perform everyday tasks. Just when you think her spirit will never recover, she reasserts control over the medical care of her body, accepts her plight and recognizes the ways in which she was fortunate.
One of the many successes of this documentary in particular is the intense focus on each character’s interview. Prolonged camera pauses captivate the audience. For example, the young man who lost his mother looks intently and lastingly into the camera after recounting his feelings toward Osama Bin Laden. This son chose to walk in his mother’s footsteps by taking a position with his mother’s former employer Lehman Brothers. He walks in his mother’s ghostly shadows to recover a deeper understanding of the woman he lost. Throughout the interview clips it is clear that the interviewees, as much as the viewers, are gaining from the process of documenting their grieving and road to recovery. The young fiancé must escape the city of New York in order to guiltily begin a new life without her beloved, Sergio. She is frank and forthright as is the native New Yorker and construction worker who lost his brother from local #20. He tells us outright that he yelled at his wife and his crew while suffering from severe PTSD resulting from excavating human remains at ground zeros. He worked from the years of relief and rescue to excavation to the building developments for the Freedom Towers.
Project Rebirth is moving, honest and intimate. The journeys of these four beloved survivors help the viewer to progress in their own personal or national mourning process. This story provides the never-before-told story of excavating, reconstructing and raising one’s life; this decade long work provides the heart and soul behind the raising of the Freedom Towers.