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The Independent Critic

Tim Brown, Nicholas Chirls, and Tanya Villanueva Tepper
James Whitaker
104 Mins.
Oscilloscope Laboratories
• Featurette
• Time-Lapse Footage
• Essay

 "Rebirth" Review 
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It's tempting to think "Oh man, not another 9/11 documentary."

It's not just tempting. It's reasonable.

There are certain life experiences from which one is permanently changed. While life may go on, sometimes quite joyously, there's always that certain part of one's psyche that remembers and is forever touched.

9/11 was such an experience, if not for all of America certainly for those whose lives were directly impacted by the attacks on the Twin Towers.

Shortly after 9/11, Project Rebirth was born. Project Rebirth is a non-profit organization dedicated to victims of 9/11 and early responders impacted by it. It's a healing project, or at least that's the aim, with the very specific aims of utilizing time-lapse photography documenting the gradual rebirth of Ground Zero with two key results: 1) The creation of a film actually documenting the rebirth utilizing the years of time-lapse photography, and 2) The creation of the Project Rebirth Museum that would expand upon much of what would be seen in the film.

Mission # 1 accomplished.

Director Jim Whitaker's project began with a focus on the rebirth of Ground Zero itself, yet he realized as the project began that to have such a project without actual representation of the human factor would be unjust. Whitaker stayed with a relatively small sample, following nine individuals over the course of seven years from 2002-2009. Five of the individuals are seen in this film, while the remainder will be incorporated into the actual Project Rebirth Museum.

It is the story of Ling, a Chinese woman who worked in the World Trade Center and suffered severe burns, that is the most powerful and even the most inspiring. Among the five individuals seen in the film, Ling was the only one who actually suffered physical injuries and they were severe injuries. While Ling certainly shows her humanity, at times lamenting the difficulty involved in daily life, she is also perhaps the most consistently upbeat and life-affirming of the five individuals whose lives were all severely impacted by the 9/11 attacks.

Nick is a teenager whose mother was killed in the attacks. He becomes an increasingly angry young man, eventually being booted from his home and breaking off contact with his father.

Brian is a construction work whose brother was killed, with Brian eventually being diagnosed with PTSD and struggling through marital conflicts.

Tanya's fiance' died in the attacks, with Tanya's grief becoming all-consuming.

Tim is a firefighter whose best friend died, a death that leaves Tim with lots of questions but very few answers.

Over the course of seven years, Whitaker follows each of these individuals (plus the four not seen) and checks in on them annually with a wide variety of results both tragic and incredibly inspiring. The first couple of years are the most profoundly difficult and deeply moving, though even as time begins to create a distance there's the undeniable print of permanency left by the attacks on these individual's lives.

Each individual ends this journey differently, some inevitably seem to follow the traditional ebb and flow of the grieving process and, yes, there are times when a sense of being "stuck" is present though it's difficult to imagine anyone ultimately saying to them "Can you just move on?"

Again, there are certain life experiences for which "simply moving on" isn't really the answer.

The camera work is fine throughout filming, especially given the challenge of multiple locations utilized. The sound mix, as well, works quite nicely despite occasional background issues that would seem almost inevitable given that Whitaker was truly entering people's lives in a most intimate way. Acclaimed composer Philip Glass contributes a score to the film and, as is nearly always the case, it's an exemplary addition to the cinematic journey and companions the film's moments of joy and despair with equal impact.

Rebirth was picked up for distribution by Oscilloscope Laboratories and is now available on DVD.

© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic