HBO produces documentary to help kids understand 9/11


NEW YORK (AP) — For students from elementary to high school, the Sept. 11 terrorist attack isn’t a
memory. It’s history. A new HBO documentary that debuts on the event’s 18th anniversary treats it that
The necessity of her project, "What Happened on September 11," struck filmmaker Amy Schatz when
a third grade girl told her about a playdate where she and a friend Googled "Sept. 11
"When a child does that, what he or she finds are some pretty horrific images that are not
necessarily appropriate for kids," Schatz said on Tuesday. "So I felt a responsibility to try
to fill that void and try to give kids something that isn’t horrifying and kind of fills in the
The half-hour film debuts Wednesday at 6 p.m. A companion piece, focusing on the memories of former
students at a high school near Ground Zero, premieres three hours later.
Schatz has made a specialty of creating films that seek to explain the inexplicable, with "The
Number on Great-Grandpa’s Arm" tackling the Holocaust and another on the Parkland shooting.
"I’m really desperate for some more lightness very soon," she said.
In this case, she worked with the Sept. 11 remembrance museum on the story, filming two men who work
there giving presentations to third graders. Stephen Kern, who worked on the 62nd floor of the World
Trade Center’s North Tower, talks about being evacuated. Matthew Crawford, whose father was a
firefighter who died that day, discusses his experience. She also found a middle school in Secaucus, New
Jersey, that teaches history through art and poetry, helping students process the emotions of what they
Short history lessons are sprinkled throughout the film, about New York and the World Trade Center, the
one-time tallest towers in the world. Construction began in 1968.
"One of the biggest questions the kids have is ‘why? ‘Why would somebody do that? Why would there be
such cruelty?’" she said. "That’s a very difficult thing to grapple with and answer so that
was the trickiest part of the project."
The film tells of Osama bin Laden and his activism that started with the Soviet Union’s invasion of
Afghanistan. But it never truly answers the whys. Maybe no one can.
Schatz doesn’t avoid some of the terrible images of the day: the second plane striking the World Trade
Center and resultant fireball, the collapse of each tower and the giant clouds of debris that billowed
through the canyons of city streets. Schatz didn’t want to avoid those clips, since kids know that
planes crashed into the buildings, but she opted not to spend much time on them "so that we didn’t
create too many lingering after-images in people’s minds."
As part of her research, Schatz interviewed alumni of Stuyvesant High School near the World Trade Center
site. But the memories of what they saw, heard and smelled that day — and the uncertainty of how they
would get home from school — proved too raw. That’s why "In the Shadow of the Towers: Stuyvesant
High on 9/11" is a separate film that premieres on HBO three hours after the first one.
Schatz said a school curriculum is being developed for teaching children about the tragedy, and
"What Happened on September 11" will be made available to schools for free. The film is aimed
generally at children ages 7 to 12.
Throughout her work, Schatz kept returning to the memory of the youngster searching for details about
Sept. 11 on the internet.
"You can’t protect kids from what they’re going to come across," she said. "It seemed to
me there was an opportunity to put something out there that is age-appropriate and not too scary and
give them the tools they need to understand the world around them."

No posts to display