Director Jim Whitaker on “Rebirth”

I traveled to New York City with my wife Chris a month after September 11th to attend a close friend, Nick Wood’s, wedding. Nick worked on Wall Street and during the post-wedding celebration I watched as a few of his friends cried in the corner, clearly suffering from loss related to the day. The next morning I told Chris I wanted to go to Ground Zero to experience it first hand. One day when we had children, I told her, I wanted to be able to tell them directly of our experience of that day and its aftermath. As Chris and I were looking at the rubble and smoke, I had a deep sense of dread and anxiety. Yet just 10 minutes later, in a moment I consider a blessing, I had a thought: one day this place will look very different -- and this gave me hope. It also forced made me ask the question -- How could one allow an audience to go on a journey from dread and anxiety to hope in the same short period of time I did? My answer was to literally to show it – to put up cameras that would track, via time-lapse photography, the evolution of the site over many years. My close friend and Director of Photography Tom Lappin devised a camera system to film the site and began to oversee what would be a 14-camera endeavor. Nick Wood and producer David Solomon came on board to form the non-profit organization . Pat Ryan engaged the AON corporation to become our Founding Sponsor and John Wood became one of the organizations’ earliest Board Members and Treasurer. After spending a great deal of time at the site, I began to realize that the emotional impact of the day was so profound that it needed to be recorded as well. So with the help of Field Producer Danielle Beverly we began to look for 10 people affected by the day to record a “human time-lapse” (visiting them once a year, every year) of their journeys. Over time, we were able to not only talk one-on-one with the film participants, but to film them as they experienced key milestones in their lives – taking the journey with them not only through grief and healing, but through family reconciliations, surgery and recovery, marriage and childbirth and career changes.

Of the ten participants, one dropped out early in the process. Five of the participants are featured in the feature length documentary film, “Rebirth.” The film was presented at the 2011 Sundance Film Festival and released in theaters by Oscilloscope in August of 2011. It debuted on Showtime on the 10th Anniversary of 9/11. All nine participants are featured in short films that will be used in programming at the National 9/11 Memorial and Museum and in Project Rebirth programs. Project Rebirth has also created a 10- minute immersive theater experience that is a permanent centerpiece exhibit in the museum’s South Tower.

The creation of the feature film, the short films and the immersive theater experience has been a labor of love for myself and for an extraordinary group of people and partners. Producer David Solomon and Director of Photography Tom Lappin along with our film crew have been supported by such organizations as our founding sponsors: Aon Corporation, Lower Manhattan Development Corporation, and Former CEO John Murphy and Board Member John Murphy brought on Oppenheimer Funds. A host of other generous individuals and organizations allowed us to keep the cameras rolling and keep following our film participants on their journeys year after year.

Project Rebirth has evolved over time from an idea for a museum installation to a documentary film and ultimately to its current mission lead by Brian Rafferty of creating curriculum and programs that help individuals and communities recover from grief and trauma and build resilience in the face of future challenges. Our films remain the core component of our efforts and we will continue to use them to foster hope and healing and to teach our children and their children about the resilience of the human spirit.

Films With a Mission

September 11, 2001 was a day no one can forget – a day of sadness and loss. For some, the losses suffered were unimaginable, the sudden and unexpected death of family members, friends and co-workers. Others suffered serious injuries or lasting trauma. How can people develop the resilience they need to overcome so much loss? How can we help people impacted by life’s greatest challenges as they struggle to heal, to move on and to face the future with hope?

Project Rebirth's Peabody Award-winning film, Rebirth chronicles the journeys of five people whose lives were forever altered on that unforgettable day. We watch their initial emotions of shock, anger, and confusion gradually evolve into hope, purpose, and renewal. Their compelling stories show that healing can happen and hope can return, even in the face of overwhelming challenges. Rebirth is the longest and most complete record of human beings coping with grief and traumatic loss in existence. It is a unique and remarkable tool for teaching, healing and research.

Simultaneously, the film uses time-lapse photography to follow the redevelopment of the World Trade Center site. The result is a weaving together of two remarkable stories into an extraordinary film experience.

Project Rebirth has also created a series of short films that are used in a variety of therapeutic and educational programs and a 10-minute immersive film experience, Rebirth at Ground Zero, that serves as centerpiece exhibit at the National 9/11 Museum.