Rebirth is a powerful new documentary about 9/11, released last week in advance of the 10-year anniversary of that infamous day in history. The documentary, directed by Jim Whitaker, is part of a larger “Project Rebirth,” which is interested in the process of renewal and growth–both physically, emotionally, psycholigically–in the wake of the traumas of 9/11.
The film follows five individuals of various backgrounds who were each affected in some tragic way on 9/11… Either by losing a spouse, or friend, or parent, or sibling, or just being severely injured. These subjects are interviewed once a year for each of the years following 9/11, and by reflecting on camera about how their lives have changed and how they’ve dealt with the grief over the years, we see the gradual process of rebirth in each of their lives.The human component of this film is juxtaposed with stunning timelapse photography from Ground Zero, which captures the gradual cleaning up of the site and the construction of the memorial and the new Freedom Tower, currently in the middle of construction.
Rebirth is one of the best films about dealing with grief that I’ve ever seen. Among the film’s many observant truths is the fact that processing and moving through grief can happen in a variety of ways. Each of the five stories is different. One person hurts deepest for the first few years, then remarries, then has kids and gradually accepts a happy new life. Another has a delayed reaction of grief… being stricken with post-traumatic stress disorder a few years after 9/11. Another channels his grief into action, joining the Dept. of Homeland Security and then as a bodyguard for Rudy Giuliani’s 2008 presidential campaign.
Rebirth is about growth–how each of us, given enough time, can start to heal. I can see this film being amazingly helpful, and hopeful, for people who have recently dealt with tragedy in their lives. In the moment, grief attacks us with the seeming impossibility that life will get better. But as this film so beautifully displays, even the most horrific of traumas–though it never fully leaves us–becomes a smaller, less invasive horror in our lives as time passes.
Interestingly, no one in Rebirth mentions anything about spirituality or the role of faith in their life (aside from one character who says he’s not at all religious). And yet the film feels quite spiritual, even transcendent. It’s all about reconciliation, renewal, regained trust, hope. It’s about death giving way to life. It’s about an act of terrorism giving rise to eventual redemption. It’s a Resurrection film.