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Site created 12/15/97.

review added: 8/30/02

WTC: The First 24 Hours
2001 (2002) - ISIS

review by Brad Pilcher of The Digital Bits

Enhanced for 16x9 TVs

WTC: The First 24 Hours Film Rating: A-

Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): A/A/C

Specs and Features

41 mins (30 min. Expanded Version, plus 11 min. Original Version), NR, letterboxed widescreen (1:85:1), 16x9 enhanced, single-sided, single-layered, Amaray keep case packaging, photo gallery, film-themed menu screens, scene access (none), languages: English (DD 2.0), subtitles: none

I'm honestly not sure what I think of this film. On the one hand, you could argue this is lazy filmmaking, but it really isn't. On the other, you could argue that it's boring to sit through, but at a scant 30 minutes in its longest form that isn't true either. That doesn't even mention the gripping nature of the subject material. The film is WTC: The First 24 Hours, which was featured at the Sundance Film Festival and features raw footage from the first twenty-four hours after the attack on the World Trade Center, when director Etienne Sauret rushed to film the scene. The original short was just over ten minutes, though it was later expanded into a half-hour documentary.

What the filmmakers did was particularly interesting, and some argue poignant. They shot this footage first-hand, but they absolutely refused to add anything to it. Watching this, you'll see no narration, no score, no nothing. Just raw footage edited together with occasional title cards to indicate what period of the twenty-four hours you're looking at. The only sound is natural sound, and it manages to pique the sheer discomfort of it all. Adding to this fact is that you haven't even got standard bookends. Beginning AFTER the attacks, you never see the jets actually hit the buildings. From the very first frame you're thrust into a horrific aftermath that is Ground Zero, and right up until the end there is nothing - not one drop of cinematic interference - to give you guidance or comfort.

Just what are we to make of this film? If the subject matter weren't so personal for so many of us, it would be the perfect film from which to discuss the merit of pure objective documentary, devoid of all cinematic pretexts or editorializing. But as tempting as it might be, it's simply hard to have that discussion. You're drawn, with every frame and every discomforting siren, back to the images themselves. The premise here is that the visual record speaks for itself, and quite simply it does. So much of what has been produced in the months since September 11 has tried to say something about the day, about the attacks, and about what has come after them. The military response, the news analysts giving their spin, the politicians, etc. have all managed to cushion us. We've found comfort in memorials. But this film is less a memorial and more a clarion call to remember what New York was on that day.

It is bitterly difficult to watch, even after all these months, the war zone that was downtown NYC from the morning of September 11 till the morning of September 12. The images of solitary gray figures wandering through rubble, whole blocks turned into scenes out of a World War II newsreel, and empty restaurants with only TVs left on to give them life, they all sear right back at us no matter how much distance we gain. This is the power and the purpose of this documentary, and I can't help but salute it for its bold effectiveness. The sadness and thought it provokes, however, causes me only to sit in silence struggling for ways to describe what I feel about this portrayal.

In DVD form, we're given both the original and extended versions. As was mentioned previously, neither are very long, yet they seem to take an eternity. The video quality is impressive, all things considered. This is raw footage shot with a Sony HDCAM, and it's a crisp record of a world awash in gray and white, blue and black. This is as good as this kind of footage gets, folks. The audio is equally sharp, allowing us to hear every voice, every TV reporter blaring through the box, every siren and machine in their purest form. It's really as if you are there, and on DVD you're getting the very finest the filmmakers can bring to you.

On this disc, you'll get but one extra, but in this case it's an important extra. A photo gallery of stills from the film will allow you to really pick apart these images, gaining their full power and detail. The things you'll find within them are as powerful as viewing the film. Once you're done, you'll have to go back and view it again. It really seems like there's so little here on paper, but once you slide the disc into your player you begin to realize just how much is there.

A picture is worth a thousand words, and these are worth literally volumes. I just cannot find those words, as much as I may try. Perhaps that is the lesson of WTC: The First 24 Hours. It certainly is one of the most memorable September 11 documentaries you'll find.

Brad Pilcher

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