‘Rebirth’ documentary shows five lives affected by 9/11

"Rebirth" covered five families impacted by the Sept. 11 attacks over the course of nine years. Photo via Showtime.

People watched in awe, ran in fear and now retell their stories with pain in their eyes about the day the World Trade Center towers were attacked. Now, a new film tells the stories of how five lives have changed over the ten years since the tragedy.

“Rebirth,” a documentary to be shown at the Weasler Auditorium on Sunday at 7 p.m., tracks the experiences of five people whose lives were torn apart by the events of 9/11. Following them for nine years, the film tells the story of how grief can turn into hope.

The film premiered at the Sundance film festival this year and has been shown in theaters in Los Angeles, New York and Boston. It will be broadcast on Sept. 11 on Showtime.

The film is directed by Jim Whitaker, executive producer for past films “8 Miles” and “Changeling,” but also showcases the work of field producer Danielle Beverly, a visiting professional in residence in digital media for the College of Communication.

Beverly said the film is one of the most important things she has done in her life.

“This documentary was epic,” Beverly said.  “We had 14 film cameras, with a 35 mm time-lapse of the reconstruction of the World Trade Center as well as a human time-lapse where you watch five people go from deep grief to hope over nine years.”

But Beverly said making the film was also emotionally draining.

“This project was hard because you became attached emotionally to these families,” Beverly said.  “But it was wonderful too because you became part of the family.”

Tanya Villanueva Tepper, one of the five people depicted, lost her fiancé in the attack and now is married with two children who call Beverly “Aunt Dana.”

“The whole film crew was present at the births of Tanya’s two children,” Beverly said.  “It was one of the several important life occasions that we filmed for this documentary.”

The crew filmed interviews once a year, which often lasted 4-5 hours per person.

“Jim would film two per day around the anniversary of 9/11, and we would also film events such as birthdays, Tanya’s wedding and 9/11 anniversary ceremonies,” Beverly said.

Beverly predicts many viewers will connect with Nick Chirls, a high school student whose mother worked in finance at the World Trade Center and died in the attack.

“Nick was 17 when we started filming and has since graduated from college,”  said Beverly.  “His is a story that applies to everyone at a certain point in their lives.”

Khalil Isiah Perry, a sophomore in the College of Business Administration, said he was positive he would attend the film.

“That day was a day of sorrow,” Perry said. “The city was shut down for two days straight.”

Perry said each time he goes to the city and sees Ground Zero, it’s eerie.

“It’s like a ghost-town,” said Perry. “But watching this documentary might make it easier to get past everything that happened, not just for me but for others.”

Paul Lisy, a sophomore in the College of Arts & Sciences, said he is not sure if he will watch the documentary.

Lisy’s mother was supposed to be at work two blocks from ground zero but called in sick. His father was in the city at the time of the attack.

“It’s as if it was yesterday that my dad came home at 2 a.m. with my neighbor who was covered in ash,” Lisy said. “I still remember watching the smoke come from the Towers that next morning. I want to see this documentary, but I don’t know if I can handle watching it all happen again.”