French-born Filmmakers Update 9/11 Documentary

Player utilities

This story is based on a radio interview. Listen to the full interview.

Audio Transcript:

Marco Werman: I'm Marco Werman this is the world. 10 years ago two French born filmmakers, Jules and Gedeon Naudet, were in New York city making a documentary about firefighters. One morning they were following a trainee fireman in lower Manhattan. Jules Naudet heard a roar overhead, he pointed his camera up and proceeded to capture the only footage of the first plane hitting the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001. In the hours that followed their unique access lead to a haunting documentary that won numerous awards. To mark the 10th anniversary, Jules and Gedeon Naudet have remade the film that first aired on CBS in 2002. They join me from New York. Jules, we'll come to the documentary itself in a moment but let's return briefly to that morning 10 years ago when you saw that plane hit the north tower, what did you think was happening?

Jules Naudet: Like 99.9% of the people I thought immediately what a tragic, horrible accident and just could not comprehend when the pilot did not try to land in the river but time slowed down and then went in fast motion again and I just had just time to jump into the car with the fire department chief.

Werman: As a filmmaker, Gedeon, was your impulse to run towards what was happening while seemingly the entire south end of Manhattan was running away?

Gedeon Naudet: Two thoughts were crossing my mind, first one wanted to make sure that Jules was alright and the second was that how are we going to film that. I mean, we had spent an entire summer filming a documentary in a fire house and the first fire in the documentary was on September 11 and I just thought this is impossible how are we going to do that. And so walking down with a camera on Church Street all the way to the World Trade Center it was bad filming the reaction of the people. We felt like all downtown was in the street looking up, pointing their fingers, screaming, crying, and so completely astonished. What people were saying, expressing their fears, their anguish it was exactly what was going through my mind, by the time I arrived down the World Trade Center thats when the second plane hit.

Werman: And meantime, Gedeon, while you were outside, Jules went to the World Trade Center and filmed 75 minutes of footage inside the North Tower, it's obviously a distressing documentary to watch but let's just play an excerpt of your original film.

[clip from the documentary]
J. Naudet: We parked right under the awning of One World Trade Center. Chief Pfeifer puts his gear on and I remember asking him you know chief, can I come in with you, I want to come in with you, and he says yep.

Chief Pfeifer: Yeah, you stay with me.

J. Naudet: Come in with me, never leave my sight. I go in and I hear screams and right to my right there was two people on fire, burning, and I just didn't want to film that and it was like no one- no one should see this.
[end clip]

Werman: Jules, when you were inside the North Tower were you able to deal with the emotions of what you were going though or did you just kind of keep filming and was that a struggle?

J. Naudet: At first you have to understand, when I arrived in the lobby of the World Trade Center strangely enough I felt safe, I'm surrounded by you know our modern superheros, you know our firefighters, and I know the fire is probably around 80 to 90 floors up. As the day progressed the anguish would start to come and the concern but at the beginning I felt like it was the safest place I could be. Keeping filming became almost a drive, a defense mechanism because if I kept filming and kept looking at the images through that little screen on the side of my camera it was not happening to me, I was looking through a window into what was happening so I kept filming to protect myself from going crazy I guess.

Werman: I have a clear memory of watching your film but it was the sound of bodies falling outside the lobby, people jumping to their deaths, that was in your documentary that I won't ever forget and that detail is one of many horrifying details of that day that you witnessed in person. If I can't erase it from my mind I'd like to know how much those images and sounds have haunted you and you've had to watch them hundreds, maybe thousands of times in the editing room now.

J. Naudet: When we heard it you realize a life has just been extinguished every time you hear that sound you realize the person just died and it's very hard to come to peace with that and it still stays in my mind of course but it's one of the hardest things of that day for me. Keeping, watching the images strangely enough was almost kind of facing our own demons, it was you know, fighting fire with fire. It was a way, it was our own therapy to exorcise these demeans and to really, by watching it over and over, to come to peace with it.

Werman: How did the two of you manage to escape? And you also didn't know where each other was at the time as well, that was also somewhat tough to deal with.

G. Naudet: It's Gedeon speaking, it's very much the nightmare of the day for me as I went downtown to look for Jules and couldn't find him and when the last tower collapsed I thought I was going to die underneath it my last thought was that I felt so completely responsible for my brother. And when I arrived back at the firehouse alive I remember for about three hours I saw the firefighters coming back one by one and and all of them couldn't tell me if they had seen Jules or if he was still alive, in fact they couldn't even look at me in the eyes saying that and it's only three hours later that I ask again a firefighter have you seen Jules and he looks at me strangely and say yes he's behind you and that was the weirdest thing, he just appeared behind and he was alive and he was fine but the wait, those hours of waiting were horrible.

Werman: Remind us how many firefighters were lost from the one station house you originally aimed to document.

J. Naudet: Well that was the amazing thing because that original firehouse, engine 7 ladder 1, did not lose a single member which strangely enough brought its own struggle and its own psychological trauma to the firefighters because that sense of guilt maybe we didn't do enough that's why we survived even though it's crazy they were the first ones in last ones out but you know survival guilt is one of the toughest issues they're facing.

Werman: You've updated the original documentary for CBS can you tell us what's in it and what do you think has changed.

G. Naudet: This is Gedeon speaking really the reason why we decided to revisit the film and to do this update and reinterview everyone in the firehouse is because two of our friends, two of the firefighters passed away this year, and they passed away in the most horrible of circumstances because of cancers due to the toxic dust that everybody breathed on that day and the weeks and months that followed at ground zero in 2001. And so we had to do something, we had to let the American people know what was happening to the firefighters who are today dying and and no one seems to care about that.

Werman: The film has obviously been career defining for both you, how has it helped defined or redefine you as New Yorkers.

J. Naudet: This is Jules speaking. I don't know if the film defined us, I think New York has always defined us since we probably the first day we arrived I think we arrived at the moment we're no longer French, we're no longer American, I think we call ourselves more New Yorkers, never more than on September 11 when the city really showed what it's true colors.

Werman: French American filmmakers Jules and Gedeon Naudet have updated their original documentary called 9/11 which airs on CBS Sunday September 11th. Thank you both very much for speaking with us.

J Naudet: Thank you so much.

G Naudet: Thank you.