Collateral Damages

2003, Movie, NR, 57 mins


Even if you're suffering 9/11-film fatigue, make an exception for New York-based filmmaker Etienne Sauret's important documentary. During the year following the World Trade Center attacks, Sauret was granted access to several of the station houses hardest hit when the Twin Towers collapsed, killing 343 New York firefighters. Sauret collected over 40 hours of on-camera interviews with firefighters who, with their fallen brethren, came to represent American courage at its finest, but his 58-minute film reveals something an eternally grateful public hasn't been entirely willing to face: All is not well with America's heroes and may never be again. In many ways, the firefighters of Engine 6, Engine 285 and Rescue 2 were ordinary men faced suddenly with unimaginable horrors. (The same sentiment is echoed at the beginning of the film by a sanitation worker at Staten Island's Fresh Kills landfill, where much of the WTC wreckage, including human remains, was shipped. "We're just garbage men," he says plaintively. "We're not supposed to see this stuff.") Billy, from Engine Company 6, was separated from his five-man team and, consequently, was the only one to survive the collapse of the North Tower. He talks candidly about the way his brain immediately translated what he saw at the World Trade Center into something more comprehensible; instead of piles of human corpses, he saw cow carcasses. Billy worries about the day the real images come rushing back into focus. Al, who asked Billy to take his shift that morning but who later rushed to the scene, has no trouble recalling the severed foot in a boot, the arm still wearing a shirtsleeve. It's the "baggage" that goes with these images he's determined to keep at bay. Sauret in no way detracts from the simple fact that these men are all heroes, but contends that they're a different kind of civilian casualty — the "collateral damage" of the title — and allows them the opportunity to speak about the downside of being on the receiving end of hero-worship. Their unasked-for celebrity prevents them from moving on. They are, as Sautet said in an interview, "lost in the ever-present yesterday." COLLATERAL DAMAGES was shown with Sauret's chilling WTC: THE FIRST 24 HOURS, a chilling, 30-minute assemblage of footage Sautet shot in the immediate aftermath of the attack. Allowed to speak for themselves, without voice-over commentary, these now-familiar images regain their original power to shock with the sheer enormity of the event. leave a comment --Ken Fox

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