TIFF 2021: Emotional 'Memory Box: Echoes of 9/11' Documentary
by Zofia Wijaszka
September 12, 2021
The horrific events of September 11th, 2001 were possibly my earliest memory of seeing news on television. I was very young, but I recall standing in front of our old, square-shaped television, the crackling sounds of which woke me up at night. Even after 20 years of pain, overwhelming grief, and gradual healing, I think of the people whose lives were cut short and who will never be able to say goodbye. Memory Box: Echoes of 9/11, directed by David Belton and Bjorn Johnson, is a documentary that provides a unique insight into the terrorist attacks that destroyed the World Trade Center towers in New York City, struck the Pentagon in Washington D.C., and killed people on board Flight 93 flying over Pennsylvania. The film is a riveting and emotional testimony of people who survived, lost loved ones, and witnessed the event that changed America.
Without a doubt, what happened on September 11th was one of the most devastating tragedies to strike the United States, forever altering the country's trajectory. In the aftermath, people united in their grief and sadness yet soon became greatly divided, especially regarding increased hostility and attacks on the Muslim community. Following the 9/11 attacks, an artist named Ruth Sergel created a simple wooden video box where people could personally record their feelings and emotional confessions about what had occurred, where they were when it happened, and how it influenced them.
Sergel took the box to New York, the Pentagon, and Shanksville, PA. When we think about it, the wooden box is essentially nothing special, just a simple box. Still, it became a beacon of survival, a symbol of unity, and a safe space for those who were finally ready to talk about their personal experiences on 9/11. Donald Byrd, a choreographer, was among those who recorded the testimony. On that day in 2001, he was staring in pain at the people falling from the North and South towers; they only had two choices – jump or perish in a fire. We also hear from Daisy Khan, a Muslim woman, who not only was affected by the tragic events, but her family was also targeted because of their religion.
Watching this documentary is an utterly devastating experience. My hand was over my mouth while I heard stories from the people who were right there when it happened. People disappeared beneath tons of steel and rubble; they were there, and then they weren't. Memory Box: Echoes of 9/11 is one of the best 9/11 documentaries I've ever seen. Instead of a narrator telling us about fearless firefighters rushing up while civilians fled to safety, we hear directly from the people. In their own words, they describe how they would bring the volunteers coffee, sandwiches, and a safe space to talk in the days following the attacks.
The film's conclusion is also deeply moving. After 20 years have passed of watching America attempting to rebuild what was destroyed, some survivors returned to the memory box on the 20th anniversary. They've aged, wrinkles have appeared, but their smiles have gradually returned. The creators let them explain how the events changed their personal lives and how their healing began, gradually emerging from the ash and rumble. Memory Box: Echoes of 9/11 gives all of its voice to those deeply affected, allowing them to begin and stop filming whenever they are ready. The film is better than any other documentary about these tragic events. It's unique, filled with personal experience, laced with sadness, grief, and, later, healing. It is not easy to watch, but it’s important. And from now on, I'll be watching it every September 11th.
Zofia's TIFF 2021 Rating: 5 out of 5
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