- The Washington Times - Saturday, September 7, 2002

TV examines lives lost, recovery, heroism

Television viewers will be inundated between now and Wednesday with footage of hijacked airliners crashing into the World Trade Center's Twin Towers and the Pentagon.

Round-the-clock news channels such as CNN and Fox News will see to that.

Several channels are offering more thoughtful remembrances of last year's American tragedy. A series of documentaries and specials airing in the next few days tell how the nation began its painful recovery.

ABC's “Report From Ground Zero,” airing 9 p.m. Tuesday on Channel 7, is based on firefighter Dennis Smith's literary account of the city's response.

Mr. Smith, who also serves as narrator, is an 18-year veteran whose work captured both the heroism and the humdrum nature of his profession. It's an illuminating glimpse at the firefighting culture, and his proximity to the subject matter elicits stirring anecdotes from his subjects.

One firefighter recalls a supervisor simultaneously talking into two phones on the morning of the attacks. Another, who lived just outside New York City, piloted colleagues to ground zero aboard his boat after he saw the city's streets had been closed.

Grown men weep as they reflect on their lost children, fellow firefighters whose decision to follow in their parents' footsteps took a tragic turn.

Yet thoughts of recrimination are few.

PBS takes a more progressive approach with “America Rebuilds,” airing at 10 p.m. Tuesday on WETA (Channel 26).

Narrated by a grim Kevin Spacey, the 90-minute special focuses on the city's recovery effort.

“We still find it difficult to move beyond that horrible day, and perhaps we never will move beyond it,” the Oscar winner says.

City workers, though, pushed aside emotion to shore up the devastated site.

The special, which teems with technical information, shows the unique complications facing the city's engineers. Not only were the Twin Towers and five smaller buildings demolished by the terrorists, the ground underneath was significantly weakened.

Engineers plot the best way to rebuild the site while cadaver-sniffing dogs and human “spotters” roam the steaming grounds searching for remains.

While a phalanx of emergency workers secures ground zero, a battle rages over the land itself. Real estate interests seek to rebuild the glorious buildings or at least recover some of the commercial space lost in the rubble. Survivors and their families see the 16-acre site as an immense memorial.

The special illustrates former New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani's change of heart on the matter.

The man credited for steering the city back from the tragedy favors a massive memorial, a decision the special says he made after taking a helicopter flight above Manhattan.

Again, little anger is displayed toward the perpetrators of the crime.

The Discovery Channel's “Portraits of Grief,” airing at 8 p.m. Wednesday, sets aside exploitative shots of that day to focus on the lives lost.

The one-hour special cuts across socioeconomic demographics, gathering video snapshots of the dead narrated by their loved ones. Stories are told through an unexpected collection of smiles, even if an occasional lip trembles.

We learn of an irrepressible firefighter and father of four girls who dressed like Elvis Presley, of an immigrant window washer who loved his job so much he loathed the idea of a day off and of a torch singer who took part-time work in the World Trade Center to support her music.

The stories are cast against a spare musical background, each profile both succinct and poignant.

Showtime takes a novel approach to the tragedy's anniversary, letting nine young filmmakers from New York University's Tisch School of the Arts present short films inspired by the attacks.

New York's own Spike Lee serves as host of the 90-minute “Reflections From Ground Zero,” which features the expected tributes, such as “Unfurled,” a montage of Old Glory shots. It also illuminates with “One Life,” a glimpse at female American Muslims living lives unlike the ones shown in the media.

The special airs at 8 p.m. Monday and 5:45 p.m. Wednesday.

In the coming days, newspaper editorials and radio talk-show hosts will mirror the rage still felt in the country following the terrorist attacks.

These specials show, each in its own unique way, that the terrorists failed to extinguish a nation's spirit.

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