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Brothers Gedeon and Jules Naudet were within two blocks of the World Trade Center (WTC) on the morning of September 11, 2001 when terrorists flew hijacked planes into the WTC towers. Both brothers had cameras with them, as they were engaged in shooting a documentary film about firefighters at the time. As a result, they captured unique footage from the area, including the only images from inside Tower 1, where firefighters were trying to get a handle on the situation. The footage includes sounds of falling bodies and scenes of firefighters trying to escape from Tower 1 after Tower 2 had collapsed. Both Jules and Gedeon were within blocks of Tower 1 when it collapsed, and escaped injury. CBS aired the Naudet brothers’ film on March 10, 2002. Over 39 million people watched. This essay explores the extraordinary footage and the insights the film brings to viewers regarding human connection and interpretation. Questions are raised regarding the perspectives represented in the film (and those perspectives not in the film). Questions also surround the competing meanings made of the film and the effort here is to partly lay out those competing interpretations in order to open a dialogue about human connections–their meanings, interpretations, generalizability, and importance (or lack thereof). Of ultimate interest for this essay are questions about time and timing (i.e., being the wrong place at the wrong time [or right place at the wrong time. . .or, etc.]), non- or supra-sentient existence (instinctive, quasi-cognizant actions like sensing when to escape a building and what and how to film during such a catastrophe), and the bonds of brotherhood stretched and ultimately strengthened by perseverance, serendipity, unique human connection, or something else completely. In effect, this essay explores different interpretations of the film that captured what the Naudet brothers faced and endured. This essay is not focused on whether the attacks were justified given multiple perspectives or whether the United States is a globalizing, imperialist force. These issues may run through any analysis, or attempt at analysis, of 9-11, yet the focus here is on the remarkable facts surrounding a fire company, its “probie,” and the two French film makers–all of whom survived the events of September 11, 2001. What, if anything, can the story within the story (or the story of the story) of “9/11” tell us? The film itself was set in three acts: life inside the firehouse before the tragedy, the events that transpired at the WTC, and the wait at the firehouse after the event to see who would come back alive. This essay begins with a narrative of the film, then moves to interpretations of the film, and ultimately raises questions about human connection, the Naudet brothers, and the role of criticality in viewing film. Criticality and interpretation are put forward as necessary components of U.S. schooling.


Published in Philosophical Studies in Education, vol. 34 (2003), pp. 89-98.