Stephen Prince


On his book Firestorm: American Film in the Age of Terrorism

Cover Interview of September 08, 2009

A close-up

The chapter entitled “Ground Zero in Focus” examines several documentaries composed of candid, amateur footage shot by witnesses in Manhattan and New Jersey as the World Trade Center burned and then collapsed.  These documentaries use a narrative framework for capturing the day’s events and for proposing their deep-level meanings.

The use of narrative within documentary is an interesting strategy – many viewers probably tend to think of documentary as a kind of reportage rather than as a narrative format.  But the abundance of documentaries that employ this format suggests there was a felt need for narrative in this context.  Very few documentaries cover 9/11 without it.  Because the attacks were so deeply traumatic, documentary filmmakers turned to narrative as means for processing the trauma and for understanding the terms of this epic atrocity.  These filmic narratives hold therapeutic value for filmmakers as well as for viewers, and the films accordingly provide an important form of social knowledge about trauma.