By Vanessa Parker
Many Americans vividly remember where they were the morning of September 11, 2001 and what they were doing. What has been forgotten are the sacrifices made by the first responders, the ones who immediately came in to help with recovery and cleanup, risking their health and lives. This is the message in the documentary “9/11: An American Requiem,” produced by Benjamin J. Luft, M.D.
The Stony Brook University Alumni Association, along with the President’s Office, hosted this year’s movie viewing in the Wang Center theater Tuesday evening. A panel discussion followed the 105-minute film. Luft and two first responders who appeared in the documentary led the discussion. Edward Burns and Rafael Orozco, both retired NYPD officers, emphasized the importance of the documentary as they fielded questions from the audience. After the event, Burns brought out personal photos of his time spent at Ground Zero, showing them to people as they chatted.
“It’s not just 9/11, but people should remember all that we do every day,” Burns said. “Acknowledge those people that went in there and sacrificed their lives– look at that sacrifice and honor your own lives.” Burns also said that the greatest message to take from this documentary would be that first responders “would want you to live your best life because of their sacrifice.”
Mary Hoffman was the event’s organizer at the SBU Alumni Office. “I only wanted people to have the opportunity to see the film,” Hoffman said. “Their voices need to be heard and this is the only way to hear it. I also wanted the audience to have the opportunity to talk to the responders directly and vice-versa. There weren’t any barriers– it was free discussion– and I think that was important.”
The idea for this documentary originated when Dr.Luft, an internist, began treating first responders suffering from ailments they developed as a direct result of working at Ground Zero. Each of their stories moved him. The film presents the first responder’s account in chronological order, using video footage and pictures from the efforts at Ground Zero. Each person interviewed was from several N.Y.C. departments, specifically the NYPD, FDNY, Transit Authority and Port Authority. The interviews are sandwiched in between the video and somber music plays softly. The footage is graphic–not meant for sensitive or squeamish eyes. The graphic footage is necessary and yet not gratuitous, as it needs to tell this story accurately, for those of us who were not there, what really happened.
“I was most surprised by the fact that it seems like propaganda makes people forget,” said Valeria Guiliano a 2012 Stony Brook University graduate from Deer Park, NY. “I mean, if you just looked around the room, there weren’t a lot of people here and it does seem like the only time we start remembering 9/11 is around election time. I think that hit me the most.”
“I was very surprised that when this all was going on 11 years ago, they didn’t show on television what was really going on,” said Angella Caballero a 2010 SBU graduate and RN at Stony Brook Hospital. “Like the people jumping out of the buildings, for example. They showed us pictures of it (in this film).”
This documentary is uplifting and eye-opening. This film puts names and faces to the stories that were previously ignored.