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Turning tragedy into art; do films about 9/11 help or hurt us?

The September 11, 2001, attacks are a powerful memory for many that some try to avoid while others welcome to help them cope.

Over the past 20 years many feature and documentary films and series have been produced in an effort to both entertain and educate. New York based psychiatrist, Dr. Karinn Glover said the effect of watching those films depends on who you are and where you were when those events happened.

“I think for some of us, 9/11 feels like yesterday and that depended on how much trauma we were exposed to at the time. And if we’ve had to deal with symptoms since then. There are other people for whom it’s a distant memory and seeing a movie about 9/11 could be just art and an exploration and empathy.”

Dr. Glover also reminds us that: “So many art forms in our culture have come from years and experiences of trauma… I think about blues music, jazz and gospel. I also think about all the art that came up on murals after 9/11… though, I acknowledge that (people) may be reminded of the loss and only the losses that they experienced.”

Netflix will tell the story of congress appointment lawyer and renowned mediator, Kenneth Feinberg, in the new film “Worth.” Feinberg was tasked with “determining the worth of a life to help the families who had suffered incalculable losses.” Actor Michael Keaton portrays Feinberg and said the victims and their families were at the forefront of his mind during filming.

“There is no other way. It’s what it is about, literally. And then you talk to some people, you know, you do investigation, you know, the investigation required. And it’s really a learning experience and it’s really emotional.”

Steven Rosenbaum, co-director of the documentary film, “The Outsider” said his film is different from others that will come out this year.

“We want to look forward. We think that America deserves a free, open, honest conversation about 9/11, and we think that we haven’t had that.”

Rosenbaum’s movie is in insiders look at the creation of the 9/11 Memorial Museum and what he said changed from being less about exploring the events of the day and more about being told what to think. The museum’s former creative director, Michael Shulan, is the film’s protagonist and the movie showcases the discrepancies between him the staff.

“We understood it was his story, but it’s our story and I would argue that we’re all outsiders. And on the 20th anniversary, looking at what’s happening in Afghanistan, you can’t help but wonder, how did we get here and why did the world and the country not take a different direction after that day?,” said Rosenbaum.

After museum officials screened the film under a prior agreement for it to be viewed for security and defamatory reasons, Rosenbaum said he was shocked when he was asked to revise numerous parts of the film.

“They made this list of scenes that they wanted to cut and they were essentially the bulk of the film. And at first I thought maybe it was a negotiation, we compromise. No, they wanted – and these are big, beefy, important scenes. So, we made the decision to not cut them. And we’re now kind of at loggerheads,” said Rosenbaum, calling it censorship.

In a statement museum spokeswoman Lee Cochran said: “The film looks at the Museum through a very specific ideological lens which we do not share. At a moment when so many institutions in the US are subject to ideological and partisan divisions, the Memorial & Museum must remain a sacred space that seeks to educate and unify. We made clear to the filmmakers that we were disappointed by many of their decisions, which we think are disrespectful towards victims and their families.”

Filmmaker Spike Lee also faced criticism with his new HBO Max docuseries “NYC Epicenters 9/11-2021½” for including conspiracy theorist and has reportedly made the decision to cut those interviews from the final edit.

National Geographic will air “9/11: One Day in America” a four-part docuseries that will feature first-person testimonials from first-responders and survivors.

Dr. Glover said that sometimes watching a film about a tragic event can give us perspective and help us reflect on a difficult time and think about what we accomplished to ensure our survival and a sense of control in the moment.

However, the hard part is that there are some who are always struggling to feel peace in the moment no matter what’s happening – so watching a film about a trauma we or family were close to can only remind us of the loss.

Almost 3,000 people died when hijackers slammed airliners into New York’s World Trade Center, the Pentagon and a Pennsylvania field.

(Production: Alicia Powell, Andrew Hofstetter)


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