I think sometimes we forget.
We forget that was a national tragedy, perhaps one of the most tragic in my own lifetime was, in fact, also a remarkably intimate tragedy for thousands of people who were impacted on a date that most Americans won't forget - September 11, 2001.
Writer/director Rob Levinson's 39-minute short film Where Were You explores a fictional story and drives home the intimacy of 9/11 through the lens of Lorelei (Amy Thomason), an office worker in the World Trade Center's North Tower on the elevator up to her office when she calls into the radio show of narcissistic New York DJ Paul Lavigan (John Campeau) to wish her husband a happy birthday just as the first plane hits the North Tower.
Levinson takes his time telling a story that deserves its time. There's two stories here really - Lorelei's desperate plea for survival and a return to a family life that she can sense is slipping out of her hands and Paul's own almost unthinkable decision amidst it all that could very well end up costing him everything.
It is Thomason's performance as Lorelei that drives the film's emotional core, her initial playfulness meets professionalism soon giving way to what could be Kubler-Ross's stages of grief as she begins to realize the gravity of her situation especially after the second plane hits the South Tower and it becomes abundantly clear this is an intentional act for reasons that were not yet known.
All we know. Heck, all Lorelei would have known was that everything was changing in the blink of an eye.
Thomason is quietly riveting here with a closing scene that is absolutely mesmerizing.
Campeau is challenged with portraying a wider range, the initial presence of a flirtatious and snarky urban jock giving way to a humanity that it feels like even surprises Lavigan himself. While it's not easy to recreate the kind of tragedy that unfolded on 9/11, watching Campeau's face and physicality as he himself watches the events unfold from his high-rise studio is undoubtedly reminiscent of the same shock and awe we all felt that day on which nearly all of us can remember exactly where we were as the events unfolded.
For some, 20 years later will still be too soon to watch a film like Where Were You. It's a film that I would call more emotionally raw than actually graphic, yet it's a film that reminds us of the almost indescribable trauma that wrapped itself around so many that day and in the days, weeks, and months to follow.
Where Were You is a question that country crooner Alan Jackson asked so eloquently in the months after 9/11. It's a question that still pops up in conversations nearly anytime 9/11 is discussed and it's a question that still, to this day, begs to be answered openly and honestly.
Ben Grant's lensing exudes the sense of normalcy with which we all started that day and captures, at times jarringly, the segue we all experienced vividly but, of course, especially those whose lives were directly impacted and changed forever. Music by Alex Hirsch and Carl Paradise adds to the film's emotional resonance.
You may be saying to yourself "Do we really need another 9/11 film?"
There's no easy way to answer that. For some, processing 9/11 and everything that followed will take a lifetime. For others, letting go and simply not watching is absolutely the correct answer.
Regardless, Rob Levinson has crafted a cinematic experience that powerfully captures the experiences that so many of us had that day while, perhaps, also reminding us that the lessons we learned remain as relevant today as they were 20 years ago. Where Were You picked up the Audience Choice Award at the Mystic Film Festival and is a film you won't soon forget.
Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic