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The days that changed New York City

September 04, 2003|Scott Sandell | Times Staff Writer

Rob Santana is a postal worker and an amateur filmmaker from New Jersey who was fascinated by the orange glow cast by the World Trade Center at sunset. And almost two years ago, he had the day off for his birthday. It was Sept. 11.

The footage he took after terrorists had flown two hijacked planes into the twin towers shows the horror and the hope that ensued. For, as we know, the buildings collapsed but the city of New York did not.

Santana, of course, is not alone. For the two-hour documentary "Seven Days in September" on A&E tonight at 9, he is just one of 28 filmmakers who contributed more than 200 hours of footage. With Steven Rosenbaum serving as director, the project takes a personal, multilayered look at how New Yorkers responded to the attacks.

The film opens with an ode to the World Trade Center as landmark of the Manhattan skyline, then proceeds to document the events of Sept. 11 in New York. (One week before the second anniversary, it's worth remembering that the Pentagon was also hit, and that a plane apparently bound for Washington crashed in Pennsylvania.)

Re-watching the New York attacks and the fall of the towers is nightmare-inducing, as is seeing the smoke-filled ghost town left in the immediate aftermath. Then there are the pockets of people taking shelter in nearby buildings, uncertain of whether the structures protecting them are safe. Another haunting scene is of wide-eyed subway riders emerging into a dust-strewn wasteland, not knowing at first what caused such destruction.

As the title implies, this is not just about that terrible day; it is also about the six days after. We see firefighters working around the clock to find survivors; civilians donating blood as well as delivering food and supplies; strangers gathering to mourn and to debate.

Grief is all around but so is anger, as people try to process what has happened. At one point, a volunteer rescue worker and another citizen argue bitterly about how to respond to the attacks, exchanging profanities, only to end up crying in each other's arms.

It's a particularly potent reminder that nothing about Sept. 11 is as simple as it might seem.

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