Never Forget: Local Man’s Hourlong Video Gives Firsthand Look at Humanity Surrounding the Events of 9/11
This Sunday, take an hour to reflect on the 15th anniversary of the deadliest terrorist strikes in American history. See it from the point of view of one stunned and bewildered, yet steadfast, observer caught in the middle of it all.
The video is called “My 9/11,” completed five years ago by Surf City writer, storyteller and filmmaker David Vanadia.
On the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, Vanadia was asleep in his New York City apartment, at 17th and Third in Gramercy, when a phone call alerted him that an airplane had struck the World Trade Center, about 2½ miles away.
“I was working as a freelance communications consultant,” Vanadia said. “I was supposed to teach a web design class that day, but it was canceled. Business was slowing down after Y2K and the Bush/Gore election.”
As soon as he got the call, he ran outside with his camcorder and recorded everything he saw as it unfolded around him, including the collapse of the second tower, reactions from citizens and first responders, acts of selflessness and of anger, words of wisdom and ignorance, and debris and fallout near the smoldering rubble. He walked closer and closer to Ground Zero and even into the thick of the ash cloud.
“It was weird,” he said. “Behind the line was the most peaceful place; outside the line was chaos.”
For 10 years, the four-plus hours of footage he had gathered sat untouched before he could face the task of editing it, which he finally did in 2011 for the decade anniversary.
“I wanted to show people something that humanizes rather than hypes the day,” Vanadia said. “People tell me that seeing the video changed their understanding of 9/11.”
From a plein air painter capturing the burning towers on canvas, to a man’s heart-wrenching skyward screams for “Rita,” “My 9/11” shows the raw humanity – emotion, panic and confusion – at its unscripted truest.
His sparse, unobtrusive narration along with the handheld documentation allows the imagery to speak for itself: a ring of misplaced shoes around a potted tree; snippets of conversations that give voice to the fear and bemusement (“I feel like it’s the end of the world,” a woman quietly remarks; “life is so strange,” a man muses); the letters “RIP” and “WWIII” scrawled by distraught fingers in thick layers of ash covering vehicles and windows.
“Everyone deals with shock differently,” Vanadia said. “We were all definitely in shock and reacting in unique ways.” In the moments immediately following the attacks, blurted phrases and perhaps careless wording call upon mature viewers to suspend judgment. “YouTube commenters are merciless,” he said. “Some say really mean stuff, but they are having their own little shocked reaction just from watching the video.”
The takeaway: “People were nice to each other, and the city really united for a time just after the attack,” Vanadia said. “I want people to know what it was like to be there. I get comments from young adults who were only 5 at the time, and this footage changes how they feel about that day. It makes it real for them.”
Watch it online for free at NYCstories.com, or on YouTube.
As for Vanadia, the events of 9/11 changed him. Sure, he worries about the dust he breathed. What he witnessed caused him to reprioritize and simplify his life. He moved away from New York and returned to college. He decided to dedicate his life to practicing and teaching his favorite folk arts. He now teaches tai chi, eschews refined sugar and creates interdisciplinary storyworks.