Day 123 – 9/11 Doc – Out of the Clear Blue Sky

Last night I finally watched the documentary that I worked on when I was first getting into the business in 2003. Out of the Clear Blue Sky was directed by Danielle Gardner, the sister of Douglas Gardner who worked at the Cantor Fitzgerald the company that lost 658 people on 9-11.

The film covers the day of the attack through to the 10th anniversary. It shows the amazing struggle by CEO Howard Lutnick and the surviving employees to reopen for business 2 days after the attack while dealing with overwhelming grief and insanity of communicating with the thousands of people immediately effected by the loss of their loved ones.

It is a well done documentary balancing the narrative of the attack and the aftermath with the effect it had upon running the business and the raw pain inflicted upon grieving family members and the surviving employees. The loss was made all the more devastating by the close relationships of the employees – lots of friends and family members worked there together.

Danielle chose to tell the story in one of the most difficult ways – without a narrator tying everything together. The story unfolds through the words of surviving employees and family members. Reenactments and archival footage tie it all together with great sound design and scoring complimenting the drama. I can only imagine the difficulty of the editing process, getting all of the pieces to fit together so well, the tension of telling the story for those effects as opposed to a general audience.

The film first came out in August 2012, but it has taken me two years to finally see it. I was invited to the original screenings, but couldn’t bring myself to go. It was a struggle working on it for two reasons – the material itself was really challenging. Sometimes I would be present for the actual interview, spends hours transcribing it and then weeks later digitize the footage into the editing system for the editor – re-experiencing the raw emotion and pain, feeling guilty that it was depressing me since it wasn’t my friend, family member or colleague that died. It was also a time that I was struggling in New York with making money, keeping my internship and own video work going. I fell into a deep, deep depression, not leaving my house or getting out of bed for a week and getting the closest I ever have to wanting to end my life.

My father flew out from Seattle to take care of me, which was both one of the most wonderful and emotionally draining experiences up to that point in my life. Here I was Mr. “I’m the boss of me” less than year into my great NYC rebirth and unable to get out of bed to do the most basic things for myself while my daddy has to come out and rescue me. My dad ended up staying a week and then my mom came out to join us. I got over the feeling of feeling helpless and very much enjoyed their visit and love.

It was one of the initial peels of my onion – beginning to understand the depths of my depression and allowing my parents to love and help me when I need it most. I went back to working on the documentary again for a while before moving on to working as an assistant editor and then editor in 2004.

If you want to see a good documentary on one of the larger 9-11 stories check out – Out of a Clear Blue Sky.

You can rent it on iTunes and Amazon and I’m sure a bunch of other places as well.