LIFE REBORN AT GROUND ZERO

Come inside the planning and development of the World Trade Center Memorial Plaza and the most overlooked and natural aspects of this somber yet magnificent setting.

Aired on September 11, 2019. 

TRANSCRIPT

> THE NATIONAL SEPTEMBER 11th MEMORIAL IS A TRIBUTE OF REMEMBRANCE TO THE WORLD TRADE CENTER, SHANKSVILLE, PENNSYLVANIA, AND THE PENTAGON AS WELL AS THE SIX PEOPLE KILLED IN THE WORLD TRADE CENTER BOMBING IN FEBRUARY 1993, FOR MORE THAN FIVE YEARS, A DOCUMENTARY CHRONICLES THE BUILDING OF THE 9/11 OUTDOOR MEMORIAL PLAZA TELLING THE STORY BEHIND ONE OF THE MOST OVER LOOKED ASPECT OF THE MEMORIAL, THE TREES.

THIS FILM TELLS THE STORY OF THE 400 SWAMP WHITE OAKS THAT MAKE UP ONE OF THE CITY'S LARGEST URBAN FORESTS AND DEPICTS THE EMOTIONAL STORY OF LIFE RETURNING TO GROUND ZERO.

THE THING THAT MADE ME CRY WAS THE TREES.

IT WAS THE FIRST SIGN OF LIFE HERE.

LIFE DOES RISE FROM THIS RUBBLE, FROM THIS MESS.

WE'RE RESTORING OURSELVES, WE'RE COMING BACK.

WE'RE NEW YORK.

THESE TREES WILL BRING THAT SENSE OF RESTORATION AND SERENITY HERE.

THE DIRECTOR OF THE TREES, SCOTT ELLIOT AND THE EXECUTIVE PRODUCER, KATHERINE DREW JOIN ME NOW TO TALK ABOUT THIS.

WELCOME TO BOTH OF YOU.

IT'S A MARVELOUS FILM.

FOR THOSE OF US WHO LIVED THROUGH THIS, YOU KNOW, WHO WERE DOWN AT THE SITE SHORTLY THEREAFTER AND HAVE BEEN ABLE TO SEE WHAT HAS TAKEN PLACE, THE RESI RESURRECTION OF THE SITE IS ESPECIALLY MOVING.

I'LL ASK YOU BOTH THE SAME QUESTION, YOU'RE FILM MAKERS, COME TO THINGS IN DIFFERENT DIRECTIONS, WHAT IS IT THAT DREW YOU TO THIS PARTICULAR STORY OF THE TREES?

YEAH, WELL, I'M A FILM MAKER, I'M A NEW YORKER AND LIKE MANY GREAT THINGS IN NEW YORK, IT ALL STARTED ON THE SUBWAY FOR ME.

I RAN INTO A FRIEND OF A FRIEND WHO WAS A LANDSCAPE ARCHITECT AND HE WAS WORKING ON THE PROJECT AND TOLD ME THE STORY OF THE TREES, AND I DIDN'T KNOW ANYTHING ABOUT IT, AND YOU KNOW, HE SAID THAT THE TREES WERE ALL FOUND IN A 500-MILE RADIUS OF NEW YORK CITY IN THE AREAS WHERE THE ATTACK HAPPENED, SO AROUND PENNSYLVANIA, AROUND MARYLAND, VIRGINIA, D.C., AND SO TO ME, IT WAS IMMEDIATELY THIS SORT OF SYMBOLIC AND METAPHORICAL SIGNIFICANCE TO THE TREES THAT I JUST FOUND REALLY INTERESTING AND DIDN'T KNOW ABOUT IT, AND SO I WENT DOWN TO THE TREE FARM, WHERE THEY WERE GROWING THE TREES IN NEW JERSEY AND JUST STARTED FILMING AND SOME AMAZING PEOPLE WORKING ON THE PROJECT AND IT JUST REALLY DREW ME IN.

I WAS ALSO IN NEW YORK ON 9/11, SO A FEW BLOCKS AWAY UP IN CHELSEA WORKING AND SO, YOU KNOW, I'D ALWAYS WANTED TO DO A PROJECT ABOUT 9/11, THIS IS TO ME A STORY THAT I HADN'T HEARD BEFORE AND THOUGHT WOULD BE A GOOD ONE TO TELL.

HOUW ABOUT YOU, WHAT DREW YO TO IT?

I THINK IT'S RARE TO CHRONICLE HISTORY IN THE MAKING ON A FILM, AND IT'S WHAT SCOTT DID, THAT HE SET OUT PROBABLY NOT THAT HE WAS GOING TO TAKE FIVE YEARS TO CHRONICLE THAT AREA, BUT I THINK IT'S LIKE THAT AS HUMAN BEINGS, IT'S WHY WE WERE ALL DROAWN TO THAT MOVIE BOYHOOD A COUPLE OF YEARS AGO.

IT CHRONICLED A LIFE OVER TIME, AND I THINK THIS FILM HAS SIGNIFICANCE EVEN GOING FORWARD.

IT WILL MARK THAT AREA OF THE CITY HISTORICALLY, AND FIVE YEARS FROM NOW, TEN YEARS FROM NOW, SCOTT WANTS TO REVISIT PART OF HIS FILM, THE TREES WILL HAVE GROWN AND THE CONCRETE AND THE AREA AND THE NEW SUBWAY STATION AND THE FREEDOM TOWER WILL ALL LOOK THE SAME, BUT THE TREES WILL TELL US THAT TIME HAS GONE BY, AND THAT IT'S A METAPHOR FOR WHAT WE CARE ABOUT AS HUMAN BEINGS, IT'S A LIFE FORCE.

LOOK HOW FAR WE'VE COME SINCE THEY WERE FIRST PLANTED THERE.

SCOTT, AS A DIRECTOR, YOU HAVE A VISION HERE, AND THAT VISION IS UPHOLDING.

THE TREES, I'VE SEEN THEM DESCRIBED AS BOTH THE MAIN CHARACTERS OF THIS FILM, AND AS THE STORY TELLERS OF THIS FILM.

WHAT DO YOU THINK ABOUT THAT?

BEING DESCRIBED AS THE STORY TELLERS.

I THINK THAT THAT'S EXACTLY WHAT I TRIED TO DO, AND I MEAN, THEY ARE VERY MUCH THE CENTRAL CHARACTERS, AND YOU KNOW, I ORIGINALLY INTENDED TO SORT OF FOLLOW A COUPLE OF THE ACTUAL TREES BECAUSE THEY'RE NUMBERED, YOU KNOW, FROM THE VERY BEGINNING WHERE THEY WERE FOUND ALL THE WAY TO THE CITY, AND THAT WAS PROVED TOO DIFFICULT TO DO, BUT THEY'RE VERY MUCH, YOU KNOW, THE CENTRAL CHARACTER AND THEN I KIND OF CONSIDERED THE HUMANS WHO WERE CARING FOR THEM, DESIGNING THE MEMORIAL AND PLANTING THE TREES AS SORT OF THE SPORTING CHARACTERS WHO ARE, YOU KNOW, MAKING IT ALL HAPPEN.

SO YEAH, THAT'S A NICE PLAN.

THE ARBORIST WHO'S AT THE CENTER OF THE FILM, WHO CARES FOR THE 400.

HE REFERS TO THEM AS HIS CHILDREN, AND WHEN THEY ARE BEING MOVED INTO THE PLAZA, THAT HE VIEWS IT AS HIS KIDS GOING AWAY TO COLLEGE.

AND THEN FOR HIM TO BRING LATER ON IN THE FILM TOWARD THE END, HIS OWN CHILDREN TO SEE HIS MASTER WORK, I THINK IT'S LIKE A, IF SOMEONE DOES A PAINTING OR, I'M SURE ARCHITECTS, BUILDING ARCHITECTS FEEL THAT WAY, BUT IT'S SO EMOTIONAL TO SEE HOW PEOPLE ARE MOVING BY SOMETHING THAT IS, THAT WAS DESTROYED AND COMING BACK, AND WANT TO FOCUS ON THE SURVIVORS.

I WAS GOING TO ASK YOU ABOUT THAT.

THE SURVIVOR TREE IS SPECIAL.

MIGHT NOT REMEMBER OR MIGHT NOT KNOW, TELL US ABOUT THE SURVIVOR TREE, ITS HISTORY AND WHY IT'S SO SPECIAL.

I'LL LET SCOTT TELL BECAUSE HE'S THE FATHER, BUT IT WAS THE LAST LIVING THING TO COME OUT OF GROUND ZERO, AND NOURISHED BACK TO HEALTH, SCARS AND ALL, BUT I'LL LET YOU.

FROM THE FILM MAKERS PERSPECTIVE.

YEAH, FROM A FILM MAKERS PERSPECTIVE, THE SURVIVOR'S TREE IS AN AMAZING STORY, AND I KIND OF GOT IN AT THE EXACT RIGHT TIME, SO TO STEP BACK, THE SURVIVOR TREE WAS THE LAST LIVING THING TO COME OUT OF THE SITE AND SOME OF THE WORKERS DOWN AT GROUND ZERO A MONTH AFTER THE ATTACKS, NOTICED A STUMP WITH A FEW LEAVES ON IT.

IT MIGHT BE ALIVE.

IT LOOKED DEAD, ABOUT 8 FEET TALL, PREVIOUSLIY 30 FEET TALL AND THEY BROUGHT PEOPLE FROM THE PARKS DEPARTMENT.

THIS TREE IS ALIVE, LET'S TRY AND NURSE IT BACK TO HEALTH AND SEE WHAT HAPPENS.

THEY TOOK IT OUT OF GROUND ZERO, TOOK IT TO THE BRONX AND FOR SEVEN YEARS IT WAS CARED FOR LOVINGLY BY A COUPLE OF WORKERS UP THERE, AND ONE OF WHOM RITCHIE CABO, I FEATURE IN THE FILM AND FOLLOW HIS STORY.

WHEN I FIRST FILMED THE SURVIVOR TREE, IT WAS UP IN THE BRONX AND IT WAS ABOUT FOUR MONTHS BEFORE THEY MOVED IT BACK, SO I GOT TO FILM IT THERE WHILE IT WAS SORT OF STILL GROWING, GOT THE STORY OF IT, AND THEN I WAS THERE TO FOLLOW IT AS IT DROVE, THEY DROVE IT DOWN THROUGH THE CITY AND REPLANTED DOWN AT GROUND ZERO.

IT'S ONE OF MY FAVORITE SCENES FROM THE FILM.

IT'S SORT OF MY, I DON'T KNOW, HOME TO NEW YORK, DRIVES THROUGH THE BRONX AND MANHATTAN AND DOWN.

IT'S A FABULOUS FILM.

SO MANY GREAT MESSAGES COMING OUT OF THIS.

CONGRATULATIONS TO BOTH OF YOU FOR DOING SOME MARVELOUS WORK.

COMPELLING AND PROVOCATIVE AND A WONDERFUL STORY.

THANKS.

Funders

MetroFocus is made possible by Sue and Edgar Wachenheim III, the Sylvia A. and Simon B. Poyta Programming Endowment to Fight Anti-Semitism, Bernard and Denise Schwartz, Barbara Hope Zuckerberg, Janet Prindle Seidler, Jody and John Arnhold, the Cheryl and Philip Milstein Family, Judy and Josh Weston and the Dr. Robert C. and Tina Sohn Foundation.

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