In the shadow of 9/11

In the shadow of 9/11

Credit: Channel 4
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Arrow Pictures’ moving film Children of 9/11: Our Story was the subject of an RTS London “production focus” in August.

One hundred and five expectant fathers died in the terrorist attacks of 11 September 2001 and the documentary, which is available on All4, follows the lives of six of their children. 

“I’ve been responsible for eight or nine 9/11 films... all of them were about the day itself. I wanted to do some- thing different for the 20th anniversary... looking forward,” said Arrow Pictures creative director John Smithson. The idea crystallised into a look at the lives of children growing up with “the loss of a father they never knew”. 

The production team got in touch with around 80 children and eventually settled on six. “We wanted to represent the wide impact of 9/11 on the world,” explained executive producer Lucie Ridout. 

The pandemic changed the way the doc was shot. Originally, it was going to be observational but, with crews unable to travel, the now- teenage children were encouraged to make video diaries. “They gave us some amazing stuff, with an intimacy we would never have got with a film crew,” recalled the director, Liz Mermin, a London-based New Yorker. 

She also shot some footage remotely. “I would appear on screens in their [home] and we would have profound conversations that I don’t think many of them had had before.” 

When she was finally able to meet the contributors in person, a relationship had developed already: “We’d been on a bit of an emotional journey, so we were able to... get an intimacy and a naturalness that we wouldn’t have had if we’d just flown in with- out doing all this other work.” 

The film was a three-way commission from PBS in the US, ARTE France and Channel 4. “These partnerships allow us to tell stories that might not otherwise [get told],” said Bill Gardner, VP, programming and development at PBS. 

“I’ve worked on many co- pros and they can be a complete and utter nightmare,” added Smithson. But this experience was positive: “It’s a win-win because Channel 4, PBS and ARTE are getting a very high-quality, well-made film and sharing the costs.” 

The RTS London event was chaired by Aradhna Tayal.