Children of 9/11 will mark the 20th anniversary of the attacks on the World Trade Centre by hearing the stories of teenagers who were born after their fathers perished on that fateful day.
The feature-length film will trace their journey, weaving together various milestones in their lives, such as their first day of school and graduation, with how they learned the truth about their families’ tragic past and how the events of 9/11 have shaped their lives.
"What’s exciting about this project is having the opportunity to examine life in the wake of 9/11," says executive producer John Smithson. "And through the eyes of the children who have all been uniquely shaped by the tragedy."
Here's everything we know about the upcoming film...
Children of 9/11 release date
The two-hour film will be broadcast on PBS on Tuesday 31 August on PBS in the US. In the UK, it will air on Monday 16 August at 9pm on Channel 4.
How was Children of 9/11 made?
Executive producer John Smithson, who has previously overseen a number of films on the terrorist attacks, including 9/11: The Falling Man and 9/11: Phone Calls From The Towers, says he wanted to examine life in the tragedy.
“Our research team spent months identifying all the individual stories," he says. "From there, we will focus down on a small cross-section of children whose fathers died on that fateful day, people from all sorts of diverse backgrounds across America and the world beyond, to unveil the hidden cost of the tragedy.”
Bill Gardner, VP of programming and development for PBS, said: “From our earliest conversations at concept stage, we all knew this was a special project. The world, not just America, was forever changed as a result of 9/11 and its aftermath, and we wanted to explore that ongoing, global impact in a very direct, personal way. The lives of these young people and their families have been shaped by 9/11 in a variety of intimate ways, and their openness to sharing their lives allows us to thoughtfully explore the nuances of the 20 eventful years since that unforgettable day.”
While in Britain, C4's Factual Commissioner Sacha Mirzoeff said: “Most 9/11 stories are set around that fateful day two decades ago and the immediate aftermath. Children of 9/11 is the first documentary I’m aware of to look forwards and the voice of the film is provided by the sons and daughters who lost their fathers in the attack. They’ve all lived in the shadow of that terrorist event, and many others after, and have unique takes on our world that help define our future. To hear directly from young people today about their views on the multitude of issues they face in this fast-changing environment feels critical.”
Who are the Children of 9/11 contributors?
Nick is from upstate New York and has just begun studying at Purdue University. His mother, Paula, worked in the South Tower. On 9/11 her morning sickness made her late to work and she narrowly missed being caught up in the attacks; but her partner, Sebastian, had a meeting in the North Tower and did not survive. Nick is a cheerleader, but his greatest passion is working with computers. Paula is from Brazil, and Sebastian was from Germany. Nick has remained close to Sebastian’s parents: they visit America each year for the anniversary of 9/11 and he regularly stays with them in Germany.
Claudia’s father was a wallpaper hanger and mechanic who happened to be working in the North Tower on 9/11. After his death, her mother brought Claudia and her sister down to Florida, where she grew up and still lives today. Claudia has a job as a receptionist at the local hospital, which has given her a front-row view on the pandemic. She is also studying at Florida SouthWestern State College and is particularly passionate about law and criminal justice.
Megan’s father was a firefighter and was killed in the South Tower, leaving a pregnant wife and three-year old daughter behind. Just like her father, Megan has a passion for music. One of her favourite things to do is play guitar and she will soon be studying at the Berkeley School of Music. In her spare time, she loves reading and writing lyrics, short stories and poetry. She even has the last lines of her favourite book, Catcher In The Rye, tattooed on her arm.
Dina hails from Massachusetts but is now attending the University of Vermont. Her father was a venture capitalist and was killed on flight AA11. Dina grew up in a big, loving family – her mother, two older siblings, her stepfather, and a younger sister – feeling inspired and positive about the world, though she was always aware of the gap left by her father. Her mother, Susan, became involved in charity work soon after the attacks, supporting widows in Afghanistan. She’s a role model for Dina, who is passionate about becoming an educator.
Ronald Milam Jr.
Ronald’s parents served in the military and both were working at the Pentagon on 9/11 – on opposite sides of the building. After Ronald Sr. was killed, Ronald’s mother left the army and moved the family to Texas. Sport is a huge part of Ronald’s life. He was a serious football player in high school but was injured last year and is still recovering. He began university life at Texas Tech, Lubbock, but has since moved back home to San Antonio, where he intends on continuing his studies at a local university to become a Physician’s Assistant.
Although Fares was three in September 2001, he never met his father, Abdu. Brought up in Brooklyn, Abdu often returned to Yemen, and it was there he met Fares’ mother, Nabeela. On 9/11, Abdu was working as an AV engineer at the Marriott in downtown Manhattan, whilst his wife and two children waited in Yemen for their US visas to come through. Abdu died helping guests evacuate the hotel. In 2008, Fares’ brother, Malek, moved to Michigan, but Nabeela didn’t yet have her paperwork, so Fares stayed behind with his mother and finished high school. Then the civil war began. In 2016, Nabeela finally received an appointment at the embassy and the two left Yemen to join Malek in Dearborn, Michigan. Fares has since earned his GED diploma and is now continuing his education from home, whilst working as an event videographer.
In the United States the film will also featured Luke Taylor, whose father, Lt. Colonel Kip Taylor, was killed in the Pentagon attack. Just two years later, his mother died of cancer. Luke and his older brother were adopted by their paternal uncle and his wife and brought up in Colorado. Luke now attends Texas Christian University in Fort Worth, Texas, where he is a keen member of the ROTC. When he graduates, he wants to join the military.
Children of 9/11: Our Story producer, John Smithson, on making the film
How did you go about making this film?
"We wanted to do something that looked forward and not back at 9/11, so the idea of hearing from teenagers who’d lost a father they’d never met in such a public way - which is talked about every year - was fascinating. We think there were 106 teenagers who were in their mother’s womb when their fathers died in the attacks and we talked to about 80, before whittling it down to six. We spent nine months choosing the cast, but we wanted to tell as many different stories as we could and some were very difficult to find!"
What can you tell us about the teenagers you selected?
"Megan was a character we liked immediately as she had some very strong views. Her father was a firefighter who died when the South Tower collapsed and told us she didn’t feel connected to the event of 9/11, because she didn’t experience it. We shot during the pandemic, so we got all the contributors to film their own stuff, which really helped us get an unfiltered take on their lives. Their views on things like the Black Lives Matter movement and gun laws were very interesting, as were their reactions to things like the death of Osama Bin Laden."
There must have been some emotional moments?
"One of the most touching moments came when Nick and his mother visited the 9/11 memorial in New York. His mum was pregnant with him and left work in the South Tower on the morning of 9/11 as she had morning sickness, but she didn’t know her partner had gone to a last minute meeting in the North Tower."
Were you surprised by any of the teenager’s outlooks?
"I was very interested in something Ronald, a young African American whose parents worked in the Pentagon, said. His mother survived the attack, but his father didn’t and when he was young, his mum told him he could ask anything he wanted about his dad, but he never did. He wasn’t alone in that. For instance Dina didn’t know her dad was sitting just a few seats away from the terrorist ringleader Mohammed Atta on the plane from Boston. She only found that out because her mum did a TED talk!"
How did you first come across Dina?
"Her mother campaigned for Afghan women who’d been widowed by American airstrikes, which is remarkable when you think about it. She met a new partner after Dina’s father died and Dina said that while she was angry about losing her old life, her younger step-sister was her best friend and she felt like she was her gift in return for what she lost."
Who else did you talk to?
"We spoke to Claudia, whose father was a wallpaper hanger who just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, and Fares, a young Muslim whose dad had been helping people evacuate when one of the towers collapsed. He was born in Yemen and lived through the civil war there, which gave him a very unique perspective. I ended up really admiring all of them, because while they wanted to remember their fathers, they were also very determined to get on with their lives."
Children of 9/11 trailer
The trailer landed on the PBS site recently, check it out here...
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