Bearing Witness to 9/11 – A filmmaker’s story – by Beverly Peterson

New York City
June 1, 2011
Dear Neil:  Thank you for asking me to provide some personal and artistic background as preface to my 20-minute film [click on the link to view it now:] 71 West Broadway: Ground Zero, NY.
For fifteen years, my husband, Farrell, and I lived within 3 blocks of the World Trade Center
On September 11th I stood on the corner of Warren and West Broadway as the first plane flew over my head and became lost in a fireball.  I ran an excruciating block to find Farrell and the two of us shared what we thought were our last kisses.  We continued watching the Twin Towers helplessly while many leapt to their deaths.  The crowd around us hushed as the next plane appeared ominously in the sky and the world turned upside down.  
After months of evacuation, the City finally deemed our building safe, and we returned to our artist loft — only to be priced out three years later by the “recovery efforts.”  Tribeca had become the most expensive and desirable real estate in NYC, and our artist community scattered throughout the boroughs.  
But whatever happened and wherever we would end up, we were thankful to be alive and have the gift of rebuilding our lives.  
Now — nearly 10 years after that event — I find myself suddenly watchful for planes on their way to surrounding airports as they make their slow descent over our new home.   The sound of my husband’s soft breaths as he dreams of  images to paint reminds me how lucky we are and I slow my breathing in sync with his while drifting back to sleep; and send silent angel prayers to those far less lucky than we were who somehow find the path toward hope.  
Looking back upon the whole experience now, quite honestly, I remember that I started filming because it was just an utterly natural way for me to cope with the horror of what was happening around us.  Shortly after the WTC attack, small business owners and those of us living next to the towers — or the smoldering pit where the buildings had been — were soon forgotten, and it seemed impossible to share our experiences with people who lived outside the “Red Zone.”  Even neighbors located a few blocks above the blockades were able to begin to process the global scope of the tragedy and begin to move on.  
But we were trapped locally in 9/11, our days lost maneuvering through the maze of support groups all with conflicting information and requirements.  
The piece reflects the core of my work and exemplifies, even now, what I try to pass on to my broadcasting and film students at Montclair State University.  I leave it to CNN to tell the who, what, why, and etcetera framed within the objective approach.  Rather, I prefer to find truth by sharing a personal perspective and allowing viewers to experience first hand what it felt like to witness history unfolding — so I filmed and I filmed and I filmed some more.  
Later on in the year, filmmaker Pola Rapaport sent out a request for any short films that people were making about 9/11 for a compilation she was curating.  I had a tremendous respect for her approach to documentary, so I sent her the cut I was working on.  Pola asked if she could include my film, and since the first screening was at a festival at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis (March 2002), I finished editing shortly before that.  
I am grateful to the Creative Research Center for requesting that I share 71 West Broadway with your readers and visitors, and I look forward to your public symposium on campus,  The Uses of the Imagination in the Post-9/11 World on Wednesday, October 12 in Memorial Auditorium.

[Professor Beverly Peterson‘s documentaries have been broadcast internationally and screened at major festivals including HBO, PBS, The Sundance Channel, The Sundance Film Festival, Human Rights Watch, Museum of Modern Art, Brooklyn Museum of Art, The Walker Art Center, The Warhol Museum, The Kitchen. 71 West Broadway: Ground Zero, New York, NY was selected as part of the memorial presentation at the Library of Congress, which has included it in the national 9/11 film archive.  Portions of her film Invisible Revolution were featured on ABC’s 20/20, Dateline, and HBO specials on domestic terrorism.  Ms. Peterson is Assistant Professor in the Department of Broadcasting at Montclair State University.]

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