Thursday, August 18, 2011

"Rebirth" Documentary Film by Jim Whitaker

My favorite films are the ones that leave you in tears and emotionally exhausted as you walk out of the theater. I was crying before the documentary film "Rebirth" had even gotten to the opening title card. The friend who invited me to the screening was kind enough to hand me a tissue and after the film was over, we stood together in the lobby with tears in our eyes talking about the people and moments that resonated most with us.

I was blown away by the scope of the film. The individuals portrayed were survivors of 9/11. They were either at the World Trade Center or lost family members or loved ones there. And they agreed to do not just one interview about their experiences up to and beyond that tragedy, but several interviews for years following 9/11. I have to give major kudos to the producers for the logistics involved in making a film over such a long period of time.

The person who I related to the most also made one of the more memorable transformations throughout the film.

Nick was just a teenager in 2001 when he lost his mother. In every interview he sported a new look. A clean-shaven kid at first, then a young man with a little patch of whiskers on his chin in the next. He grows up before our eyes and we see this college graduate wearing glasses and in the end, a bearded man with wisdom beyond his years.

Nick's story resonated with me because I lost my mother. Not to something as tragic as a terrorist attack but to something preventable: heart disease and diabetes.

But it was also during the months following 9/11 that I had experienced a falling-out with Mom and it was a documentary film--the Naudet brothers' "9/11"--that prompted me to reach out to her. It took us a while to get through our difficulties but we did get through them.

In 2004, a friend approached me about making a short film in time for Christmas. We decided to produce a script that I had written a number of years ago which was based on a short story that my Mom had written. The project was pretty much kept secret from the rest of the family--with the exception of my sister if memory serves. We finished it in time to get it out to the whole family by Christmas. Mom called me to thank me for making the film and she said that it was the best Christmas present she had ever received.

That would be the last thing she ever said to me. Not long after that, she had a heart attack. After nearly a month in the hospital, she passed away.

"Rebirth" reminded me of why I love filmmaking as an art form. It brings people together in its production and its exhibition. Sitting in that theater tonight, I felt a reverence that someone might only associate with a religious congregation. But the experience was a spiritual one. It was a group of human beings coming together to witness the stories of other human beings in the aftermath of an all-too-human tragedy.

I've often said--only half in jest and in reference to my own anxiety issues--that I hate crowds but I love an audience. But there's no audience I love more than one that comes together to experience a great film and isn't afraid to be moved by it and to let those emotions show in front of others, knowing that they are all experiencing the same feelings.

I highly recommend watching this film but don't do so alone. Watch it the way I did: with a good friend who you can cry with and hold onto as you process the emotions it will inevitably bring up.