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GSE Students, Faculty View Excerpt from Documentary About Ground Zero


Project Rebirth Executive Director Steve Mendelssohn visited Fordham to screen a clip of a documentary about Ground Zero that will be years in the making.
Photo by Michael Dames

Hard as it is to imagine, there will come a time in the future when those who walk through Ground Zero will strain to picture the new complex of offices, museums and memorials there as a gigantic, smoldering heap of scarred and twisted metal and concrete.

Project Rebirth will help them make that leap. The nonprofit group is documenting the rebuilding of the physical space destroyed on Sept. 11, 2001, with the help of a dozen cameras in and around Ground Zero and interviews with 10 people who were affected by the terrorist attacks.

Although the film won’t be completed until 2013, students and faculty at Fordham’s Graduate School of Education (GSE) were shown a 40-minute clip of the documentary as part of GSE’s first Honors Society Colloquium on Oct. 17.

Project Rebirth’s executive cirector Steve Mendelssohn told the gathering at the Lowenstein Center that Imagine Films President Jim Whitaker was inspired to start the project in 2002 by memories of his father coming home from work one day and describing Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have A Dream” speech.

“Jim always thought ‘I wish someone could have captured that on film through my father’s eyes,’” he said. “And he thought ‘I want to capture the recovery at Ground Zero for my daughter, for everyone’s children and their children’s children and their children’s children’s children, because they’re going to say ‘Hey, Mom and Dad, how did we get through that?’”

The film project began with three movie cameras in and around Ground Zero taking time-lapse photographs every five minutes, 24 hours a day. There are now a dozen cameras and Project Rebirth ( has amassed a visual record of everything from the reconstruction of the PATH train station to the subway tunnel and 7 World Trade Center.

It’s not just concrete and steel that are transformed, though. The filmmakers are also conducting interviews every year with 10 people whose lives were directly affected by the attacks. The clip shown at Fordham featured four of them talking about their lives in the first four years since the attacks.

In fact, the theme of recovering from significant negative events in people’s lives is what brought Mendelssohn and the colloquium’s organizer, Vincent C. Alfonso, Ph.D., associate dean for academic affairs at GSE, together. The two met at a National Association of School Psychologists (NASP) conference earlier this year.

Mendelssohn said that the clip of the film has been shown in private screenings since September 2006 as a way to generate awareness and funding. The group has raised $9 million so far but needs another $4 million to keep the filming going. The finished product will be part of the 9/11 National Museum and Memorial at the World Trade Center site.

“If it were finished when Hurricane Katrina happened, we would like to believe that people would have seen Project Rebirth and would have said ‘Well if they can get through it, we can too,’” he said.


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