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9/11 Video More than a Mere Documentary

22 Aug, 2002 By: Brendan Howard

On Sept. 11, 2001, French-born Jules and Gedeon Naudet had been filming a documentary for months about a rookie New York firefighter. When the first plane hit the World Trade Center that morning, a camera-wielding Jules was out on a routine run with the firefighters and caught live footage of it hitting the North Tower. Later, he was with firefighters in the lobby of the North Tower when the second plane crashed into the South Tower.

A day after the one-year anniversary of the terrorist attacks -- Sept. 12 -- Paramount Home Entertainment will release the brothers' filming of that event, 9/11: The Filmmakers' Commemorative Edition, at an estimated $20 on DVD and $15 on VHS.

A 109-minute version of the film debuted on CBS in March with host Robert De Niro. The new 130-minute version, available only on video, has more about the pre-9/11 firehouse atmosphere and the experiences of the brothers, who were separated during the attack and feared the worst (Jules thought -- wrongly -- that Gedeon had gone with firefighters into the building before it fell).

“It was a strange thing, you know,” said Jules Naudet. “We never really wanted to put ourselves in it, but we understood that we could help people have an understanding of what it was to be there.”

The DVD also has 50 additional minutes of interviews with the firefighters who are featured in the film, an experience the Naudets and firefighters found therapeutic.

“The thing that amazed me the most in all we filmed was the interviews with the firefighters,” Naudet said. “It was not just a journalist interviewing a victim -- it was just two friends who needed to talk and who needed to let it out.”

The film also has helped the families of firefighters who were killed.

Actor and firefighter James Hanlon, who was working with the Naudets on the original documentary, spent months sifting through footage and visiting firehouses to identify those who had been killed. He then sent letters to victims' families, asking if they wanted to see the footage of their loved ones. All the families said they did.

“When we started looking at [the footage], we saw we had such a huge responsibility,” Naudet said. “The footage is so much bigger than any of us. This was something that had to be treated very, very carefully, with the utmost respect, especially for the families of the firefighters who died, whom I had filmed in the lobby.”

One widow was particularly grateful, he said. “Widows of firefighters organized a lunch and they invited us, and one of them said, ‘When you sent me the tape, I didn't want to watch it. Then I decided I needed to watch it.' After a minute of seeing her husband in front of the camera, he raises his hand and he's wearing his wedding ring, which he never used to do on the job. And for her, it meant everything.”

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