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Film / 9/11

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9/11 is a documentary covering real events. This page exists to trope that documentary, not the events themselves.
"We wanted to make a documentary about a firefighter. That's how the whole thing got started."

"There's a saying in the fire service: 'When you go too long without any fires, be prepared: something big is coming.'"
Robert De Niro, introducing this film for the first airing.

While the films United 93 and World Trade Center are reenactments, this is the real deal.

9/11 is a documentary film of the attack on the World Trade Center in New York City by brothers Jules and Gédéon Naudet (pronounced "No-day") and James Hanlon.

It didn't start out that way, though.

The film initially followed a probationary firefighter, Tony Benetatos, in his journey to become a full-fledged firefighter in New York City at the firehouse of FDNY Engine 7/Tower Ladder 1/Battalion 1. As the weeks go by, the brothers get great footage of the life of firefighters, but none of any "real" fires.

On the morning of September 11, 2001, Jules goes out with some of the firefighters to investigate a gas smell. He hears a loud roar in the air, turns his camera upward... and captures one of only three pieces of video showing American Airlines Flight 11 hitting the North Tower of the World Trade Center.note  Jules accompanies the firefighters to the World Trade Center and films them (the only surviving footage captured inside the towers that morning) as they do their best to handle the situation. While Jules follows these firefighters, he hears the second plane crash into the South Tower. A bit later, the firefighters hear some rumbling, so they and Jules scramble to safety at the foot of an escalator as the South Tower begins to collapse above them. Disoriented in the dust as it settles, Jules and the firefighters find their way outside. As the firefighters try to set up a second command center, the North Tower collapses.

Gédéon had remained at the firehouse that morning to capture Tony's reactions. He walks down to the World Trade Center and captured both United Airlines Flight 175 hitting the South Tower and the collapse of said tower.

The Naudet brothers and the firefighters from Engine 7/Tower Ladder 1/Battalion 1 begin slowly coming back to their firehouse. Upon arriving, they find that, by some miracle, all of them survived. However, 343 of their brethren did not. Left to pick up the pieces (figuratively and literally), the firemen go down to Ground Zero in an attempt to find anyone who's still alive. All the while, the firemen wonder what it means to be a survivor of something so horrific, and how they're supposed to honor those who died on that terrible day.

CBS aired the documentary without commercial interruption on March 10, 2002, six months after the attacks. Steve Busceminote  and Robert De Nironote  hosted. The network later re-aired the documentary on the fifth and tenth anniversaries of the attacks.

Not to be confused with the 2017 drama film starring Charlie Sheen.

9/11 provides examples of:

  • Action Survivor: Chief Pfeifer, Jules and several other firefighters not only escape the collapsing South Tower (which is coming down on them as they flee), but also escape the North Tower's collapse.
  • Aside Glance: Some of the firefighters in the North Tower lobby glance at the camera as they look around in shock.
  • Bathos: The day after the attack, some of the firefighters are cracking jokes about all of the supplies that keep pouring in, such as "we can't possibly eat all the cookies they're sending us!" It's interspersed with shots of the firehouse coming to terms with what's happened, such as disbelief when they look up at the skyline of New York City and see that the Twin Towers are both gone.
  • Be Careful What You Wish For: The filmmakers are told this when they mention that there haven't been any big fires lately. The firefighters say there's a superstition in their line of work: when there haven't been any big fires for a while, something really bad is going to happen. They were right.invoked
  • Better to Die than Be Killed: One of the firefighters observes this when he finds out that people are jumping from the towers, which could be more than a hundred stories in the air.
    Firefighter Joe Casaliggi: How bad is it up there that the better option is to jump?
  • Bittersweet Ending: Every member of Battalion 1 survives, but many other fire companies are beset with casualties, including a few that end up wiped out. The Twin Towers are gone, thousands are dead, everyone is left struggling to clean up the wreckage, and the feeling in New York City is irrevocably changed for the worse and the United States is now at war with an unknown enemy. The final scene notes that things do eventually return to normal, as the battalion heads out to more normal jobs.
  • Bloodless Carnage: Despite the tragic subject matter, both Jules and Gédéon make a conscious effort to avoid filming death and injury when possible. The goriest moment in the film is actually at the very beginning, when a rookie class of firefighters are shown a presentation illustrating the injuries of various severe burn victims to demonstrate the importance of their protective gear.
  • Bookends: The film starts by focusing on rookie Tony Benetatos as he trains to become a firefighter. He is the very last person to return to the firehouse safe and sound.
  • Bowdlerisation: Averted. While there's a content advisory at the beginning of the film, the language used by both the filmmakers and the firefighters, which includes several audible instances of the word "fuck", is completely uncensored. Given the subject matter and the historical importance of the film, none of the swearing is presented as gratuitous, instead being shown as natural reactions to what's happening.
  • Broken Tears: As noted by a few of the firefighters, "a lot of the guys were crying" when they got back to the firehouse from the World Trade Center. There's a few shots of these firefighters openly sobbing and weeping, unable to hold back their emotions over the horror and tragedy over what they'd just lived through. Gédéon and Jules themselves dissolve into tears upon being reunited back at the firehouse for the same reason, as well as relief at seeing that the other is okay (they'd been separated during the whole thing and until then, each feared the other was dead).
  • The Cameo: Midway through the film, as Gédéon and some firefighters are trying to get to the World Trade Center site on the back of a pickup truck, Mayor Rudy Giuliani can be seen walking past the car Gédéon is riding in.
  • Camera Abuse: Jules and Gédéon's cameras constantly shake (due to their surprise at what's happening and when they're running), get dropped several times, and get their lenses covered with dust. There are several shots of one of the brothers having to clean their lenses just to get a clearer picture.
  • Cheerful Child: In the shots of dust-covered people walking away from the World Trade Center, a police officer is escorting a woman with a stroller, with both wearing masks. The child in the stroller is holding her mask up high in the air, blissfully riding.
  • Cigarette of Anxiety: Gédéon can be seen finishing one just before reaching over to hug Jules after the latter finally returns to the firehouse.
  • Cluster F-Bomb:
    • One of the firefighters can be heard yelling "fuck" repeatedly as the firefighters return to the Battalion 1 firehouse after the attacks. Tony Benetatos himself uses the word "motherfuckers" quite a bit in the same sequence.
    • When the first plane hits the World Trade Center, a few firefighters repeatedly yell "Holy shit!"
  • Cooking Show: As the weeks go by and there are no major fires, one of the Naudet brothers jokes that it seems they're making one of these. Firefighters are famous for their love of food, and firehouse cooking is Serious Business.
  • Coming of Age Story: The original intent of the documentary was that it would, to quote Jules, "show how a kid [...] becomes a man" through the lens of a firefighter's probationary period. In a way, the documentary is still about that, with Tony Benetatos ultimately proving himself in the toughest circumstances imaginable.
  • Covered in Gunge: Everyone near the collapse of the second tower ends up completely smothered in dust. There are several shots of people with bottles of water in their hand, covered in blankets of gray from the towers collapsing, coughing and retching from it getting into their lungs.
  • The Dead Have Names:
    • One of the final scenes has a radio broadcast list the names of missing and presumed dead firefighters.
    • In the anniversary airings, Chief Pfeifer stands at a memorial wall and remembers some of the men who died during the day's events, which included his brother Kevin Pfeifer.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Upon reaching the North Tower's lobby:
    Captain Dennis Tardio: I... joked about it. I said the command post was abandoned. The board was set up and nobody was there. I said "Oh, this is not a good sign."
  • Determinator: Given the heroism of the men and women during the attacks, this is frequent.
    • Chief Pfeifer, after shielding Jules from debris when the North Tower collapses, immediately heads back in to try and coordinate rescue efforts.
    • Probie/rookie firefighter Tony Benetatos, who goes with Larry Byrnes and spends most of the day (and night) trying to rescue people. He's the last of the firemen to return to the firehouse, staying out for nine hours to try and help people.
    • By extension, all of the first responders, who valiantly try to coordinate rescue efforts and make their way up the tower as it's burning. With the elevators out, that means climbing eighty flights of stairs to reach people. They don't let it stop them.
    • After the attacks, the entire FDNY digs through the rubble for weeks to try and find survivors, even as the chances of finding someone who's still alive go down rapidly by the day.
  • Developing Doomed Characters:
    • Although the entire crews of both Engine Company 7 and Ladder Company 1 all survive the day's events, the first half-hour of the film is spent showcasing their time in the firehouse.
    • The documentary (and, more overtly, the unedited footage) shows numerous firefighters seen chatting with each other as they get ready to head up the emergency stairwells. For many of those firefighters (who are seen reacting in shock to the second attack and jumpers), it would be the last footage recorded of them.
    • A handful of critics blasted the film for its excessive focus on probie firefighter Tony Benetatos — first with his training, then with the fact that he was the very last of the firefighters to return to the firehouse. The criticism was the feeling that, despite the fact that it really happened, the film's creators couldn't resist manipulating the audience with the cliched fear that the Naïve Newcomer was going to perish in the disaster. (These critics are of course ignoring that the original point of the documentary was to follow Tony as he went from probie to firefighter, thus the extensive footage of his experience. The filmmakers had no way of knowing that 9/11 was going to happen during his probation period. Of course most of their footage leading up to the attack was of him, and since neither of them were with him after he left the firehouse on 9/11, there is necessarily some suspense until he returns alive.)
  • Disaster Movie: It's actually not that far off — a film crew embedded with the fire department responding to a minor call just happens to capture an incredibly destructive terrorist act and follows the firefighters into harms way, recording the whole time. In the end, despite thousands dying, the entire main cast — including the veteran and the rookie — survives. If you wrote a movie with that plot, you'd have people telling you it's unrealistic. One passerby's interview, dubbed over shots of the towers on fire, even says that it feels like something out of a movie, except it's really happening.
  • Dramatic Irony:
    • During the opening Montage of Ladder 1's connection to the Trade Towers, Chief Pfeifer is shown behind the command desk at both the North and South Towers several times as the various fire crews respond to small-scale issues in the buildings. Thus, when he's in position to be the first Battalion Chief into the building and once again takes up a post at the command desk to try and coordinate the flood of firefighters coming in, the gravity of the situation is far more apparent.
    • The reason Tony Benetatos stayed out as long as he did was to try and find other firefighters from his firehouse. Little did Tony know that he was the last one to arrive back at the firehouse, as everyone made it out alive. Tony even brings this up once he gets back, darkly laughing that he stayed out as long as he did, and "you motherfuckers are sitting here, eating oranges" while Tony was gone.
    • While the audience knows that both of the Naudet brothers are still alive after the second tower falls, the Fog of War around the whole thing means they don't know that when it happens, which each brother thinking the other has died in the collapse. It's also noted by the narrator after the second tower collapses that the two brothers were unknowingly less than a block away from each other at the time.
  • Due to the Dead: One of the final scenes shows the FDNY's series of memorials and funeral services for the various firefighters, including Chief Pfeifer's brother, Lieutenant Kevin Pfeifer from Engine 33.
  • Emergency Services: This all started out as a simple film to follow people coming into this field. Then the World Trade Center got hit by an airplane, and it became a more intense look at such services than anyone could have predicted.
  • Everybody Lives: Zigzagged. Everyone from the two fire companies — Engine 7 and Ladder 1, as well as the Naudet brothers themselves — all survive. This is in spite several of them being caught in the World Trade Center as it collapsed. However, they were a lucky few. On that day, 343 FDNY personnel, 60 NYPD and Port Authority police officers, and almost three thousand civilians were killed. Over 75 FDNY firehouses lost at least one individual from their crew, including Father Judge, Department Chief Ganci, First Deputy Commissioner Feehan, and several high-ranking officers like Assistant Chiefs, Battalion Chiefs, Captains, and Lieutenants. There were a few fire battalions where no one survived, ending up completely wiped out.
  • Fade to Black:
    • When the South Tower falls, Jules and the firefighters run for cover to an escalator. Things fade to black not through the filmmaker's skill, but because of the dust from the collapsing building clogging everything.
    • When the North Tower collapses, only this time, Gédéon and the other firefighters are outside and run down the street. As Gédéon seeks shelter behind a car, the same effect occurs from the overwhelming amount of dust billowing around the camera.
  • A Father to His Men:
    • Fire Chief Pfeifer, who is shown to be looking out for all of the immediate personnel around him, including the two filmmaker brothers. When the North Tower collapses and Jules ducks behind a car for safety, Chief Pfeifer jumps on top of Jules to protect him, risking his own life to do so.
    • Former fire chief Larry Byrnes arrives at Engine 7/Ladder 1's firehouse despite having retired in 1998, because "they're my firefighters" and they need him. He takes time to calm everyone down and start directing the firefighters to where they can be of the most use. Byrnes even goes out with Tony Benetatos to try and save people with the others, despite being under no obligation to do so.
  • Fog of War:
    • The firefighters inside the North Tower get conflicting and contradictory reports, including a false report that a third plane was on its way into Manhattan. It's justified as FDNY radio was all they had, and they were using it just to try and communicate with the others in the tower. With such a massive operation for such a sudden disaster, conflicting information was inevitable.
    • Jules and Gédéon each believe that their brother is dead after the towers collapse because the two of them had no way of contacting each other in the ensuing chaos. Once they both get back to the firehouse, both of them are moved to the point of Manly Tears to see that their brother is still alive. However, after the second tower collapsed, the two brothers ended up less than a block away from each other, unbeknownst to them at the time.
    • Tony Benetatos, the probie that the Naudet brothers had been following, is the last firefighter to arrive back at the station. Most of the house feared he was dead, but he had simply stayed out longer than anyone else to try and help people.
  • Foregone Conclusion: The World Trade Center towers both collapse, killing thousands.
  • Foreshadowing: One short sequence has Jules filming Tony talking to another member of the battalion on a raised fire-ladder's carriage, with both towers of the WTC unintentionally framed in the majority of the background. James Hanlon (the narrator) then notes that this footage was shot on September 10.
  • From Bad to Worse:
    • An audio clip from a local radio host covering the day's events mentions that "what started out as a bad day just gets worse, and worse, and worse."
    • The day's events: American Airlines Flight 11 hit the North Tower. The elevators were knocked out, so the firefighters had to walk up eighty floors. Then United Airlines Flight 175 hit the South Tower. The firefighters set up another command center. The radios didn't work. Then both towers fell.
    • And that's just what happened in NYC; there was also American Airlines Flight 77 that hit the Pentagon in Washington, D.C., and United Airlines Flight 93, which crashed in a field in Pennsylvania while also heading to D.C. Tony is shown hearing about the Pentagon on the radio at the firehouse, and in all the confusion and conflicting information of that morning, some of the firefighters hear (ultimately false) rumors that more planes are on their way to New York.
  • Gory Discretion Shot:
    • When Jules enters the lobby of the North Tower, he sees two people on fire just out of his camera's shot. This is due to burning jet fuel leaking down the elevator shafts. Jules makes a conscious decision not to film them, saying "no-one should see this".
    • One of the firefighters returns to Battalion 1 and describes finding body parts in Ground Zero, like severed arms and feet. Another firefighter also describes a scene of a man running with his own severed arm, calling out for a medic in desperation. A third also mentions finding a firefighter's corpse that no one could identify, because they only found half of his body.
  • Gratuitous French: Averted. When Jules and Gédéon both made it back to the firehouse alive, the two embrace and speak to each other in their native French, in spite of being fluent anglophones. However, what they're saying isn't subtitled or translated. Given the context of the scene, it's presented as the two of them sharing a moment of relief that their brother is still alive. Afterwards, in narration, Gédéon remarks that "it was like meeting for the first time" for how happy he was.
  • Halfway Plot Switch: The first half-hour of the documentary is a somewhat-dull documentary about a rookie firefighter. Even the filmmakers felt this way, joking that they were filming a cooking show. Once Jules heads out on the morning of September 11th, he ends up recording one of the most important moments in American history, and the following footage details his experiences in the North and South Towers. (As a matter of historical note, the footage of the first plane hitting WTC which Jules recorded is one of only three recordings of the crash, and it's also by far the clearest footage.)
  • Heroic BSoD:
    • Reverend Mychal Judge, the FDNY Chaplain, pacing back and forth in shock in the North Tower's lobby. He was subsequently killed when he was struck in the head by flying debris from the South Tower's fall, and is officially listed as the first confirmed death in the attack.
    • The security guard who is paging the different elevators throughout the North Tower stops and turns back to look at the firefighters with a dumbfounded expression on his face, and doesn't know what to do.
    • As Chief Pfeifer and the other firefighters gather themselves together after the South Tower collapses, they soon find the lifeless body of Father Mychal Judge, who had been struck in the head and killed by falling debris.
    • The other group escapes the collapse of the North Tower, and it occurs to Gédéon that his brother Jules is almost certainly dead. Gédéon outright states that he could feel himself shutting down emotionally because the idea that his brother was almost certainly dead was too much to deal with in the midst of all the chaos.
  • Heroic Self-Deprecation: On September 12th, despite the literal tons of donated supplies, around-the-clock rescue efforts and thousands of people cheering for the FDNY, the firefighters note they certainly don't feel like heroes after what happened. Many of them also talk about the Survivor's Guilt they feel, wondering why they survived when so many innocent people and so many of their firefighter comrades were killed.
  • Hope Spot: After the firefighters started digging through the rubble of the World Trade Center on September 12th, they managed to find one person who was still alive. Later narration implies that one living person was all they managed to find. (In total, twenty people were still alive when they were pulled out of the rubble of the World Trade Center, but the last survivor was pulled free only 27 hours after the attacks happened; after that, the rescue efforts found no more survivors.)
  • I Need a Freaking Drink: The first thing retired chief Larry Byrnes says when he arrives at the Battalion 1 firehouse is, "Somebody get me a cup of coffee."
  • Intrepid Reporter: Jules and Gédéon Naudet. Both brothers film live footage of the Word Trade Center attacks, both becoming an active part in the aftermath, with Jules even getting caught in the tower collapsing.
  • Ironic Juxtaposition: Gideon's footage of the plane engine, having gone through the second tower and come to rest on a sidewalk, happens to be right in front of a 'No Littering' sign.
  • Irony: Jules, the less experienced videographer of the two brothers, gets perfect footage of the North Tower being hit: One of only three recordings in history that got the first impact on film, and easily the best and clearest of the three. But the footage of the South Tower attack, seen by millions of people on live TV and recorded by Gédéon, isn't very good; it's a few rapid cuts with only a split-second shot of the actual explosion. Justified as the second plane's impact caused a panic in the street with thousands of people fleeing for their lives, including Gédéon.
  • It's All My Fault: Gédéon feels responsible for Jules going to the World Trade Center after the first plane hit.
  • Jitter Cam: Here and there. Of note is that this is the real deal, and the camera was actually less jittery than in movies such as Cloverfield, even when each brother was running for their lives. However, it definitely happens after the second tower falls, with both Jules and Gédéon filming some very shaky moments. Gédéon in particular only picks up falling dust and debris for several minutes as he tries to help a wounded man get to safety. It's only after the brothers are clear of immediate danger that their camera work stabilizes.
  • Jump Scare:
    • United Airlines Flight 175 hit the South Tower as Gédéon happened to be filming it. He and everyone else around was too distracted by the fire to notice it coming.
    • Discussed by Jules when hearing the loud noise of jumpers impacting the ground. Many firefighters flinch when they hear the sound.
      Jules: You don't see [the jumpers], but you know where it is. And you know that every time you hear that crashing sound, it's a life that was extinguished. It's not something you could get used to. And the sound was so loud.
  • The Ken Burns Effect: On the still photo of Father Judge's body being carried out of the debris to be confirmed as the first official identified victim of the attacks.
  • Late to the Tragedy: After the second plane hits, one of the elevator cars opens up in the World Trade Center, with several people walking out in confusion as to what's happened, since they didn't know what happened.
  • Manly Tears: Everyone back at the firehouse is all hugs with their fellow firefighters as they come back one by one. In particular, Jules and Gédéon, who pair this with Man Hug, collapse in each other's arms and bawl like children, having been separated the entire time and each fearing that the other was dead.
  • Man on Fire: Jules sees two people on fire and screaming as he enters the lobby of the North Tower, although he chooses not to film them, since "no one should see this" on film. He would later find out that it was because burning jet fuel had gone down some of the elevator shafts.
  • Mass "Oh, Crap!":
    • Everyone in the lobby has one when they hear the rumbling of the tower coming down. Most of the firefighters immediately bolt for the stairwell.
    • Everyone in the lobby also has one the first several times the (startlingly loud) sound of a jumper crashing down reaches them. Even after this becomes routine, almost everyone flinches when a new crash happens.
    • Before all of this, there's the first plane hitting the North Tower while the crew is taking care of an everyday gas leak check. Several exclamations of "Holy shit!" quickly follow.
  • Mathematician's Answer: Played for drama. During the One-Woman Wail chorus after the second tower falls, a firefighter notes someone asked him "what happened?" at the World Trade Center. He replied with "Hell. Hell is what happened."
  • Minor Crime Reveals Major Plot: Insofar as the gas leak was totally unrelated, but the documentarians happened to be in the exact right spot to capture one of the few film recordings of Flight 11 smashing into the North Tower.
  • Montage:
    • Ladder 1's connection with both towers is highlighted early on via one of these, with firetrucks responding to both towers numerous times over the course of the summer of 2001 to respond to various small-scale issues. Chief Pfeifer is even shown behind the command desk at the Towers.
    • Ladder 1's initial focus on Tony conveys itself in a montage of the firehouse's response to various small-scale fires throughout the same summer.
  • Monumental Damage: The World Trade Center Twin Towers are both destroyed by planes crashing into them.
  • Mood Whiplash: See Halfway Plot Switch above. The firefighters were working on a false alarm of a gas leak after a relatively boring few months. Suddenly, there was a roar overhead... and then the North Tower is rammed by a plane, snuffing out the first of thousands of people who eventually would die.
  • Move Along, Nothing to See Here: After both towers collapse, several emergency people essentially tell Gédéon this, with one saying "this ain't fuckin' Disneyland" and ordering him to leave the area. While they seem grumpy, the cops were trying to keep people out of harm's way when they probably wanted to be down there where the action was trying to help the wounded and find their lost buddies.
  • Narrator: James Hanlon is a member of Battalion 1 who happened to be on vacation during 9/11. This is why he isn't in any of the 9/11 footage that the Naudet brothers captured.
  • Naïve Newcomer:
    • Jules, who is noted to have next-to-no formal camera training when he goes out with the battalion on the morning of the attacks, ends up getting some of the most incredible footage of the attacks, and is the only person in history to get footage from inside the tower during the attack which wasn't subsequently destroyed in the collapse.
    • Tony Benetatos, the probationary firefighter the filmmakers had been following, still hadn't dealt with a "real" fire when 9/11 happened; he even stated in interviews with the filmmakers that being a firefighter would be his first job. He nonetheless stayed out longer than anyone else to try and find victims to help, including other firefighters.
  • New Meat: The probationary firefighters, or "probies," who are on a nine-month period of estimating if they have what it takes to join the crew permanently. The firefighters note that Tony, who was a probie when he arrived, more than earned his status as a firefighter for his heroism.
  • Nothing Exciting Ever Happens Here: Tuesday, September 11th started out as just another nice day among many days without any major fires. Then the first plane hit.
  • Nothing Is Scarier: Gédéon notes that, after the second tower collapses, the section of the city he's in was covered in dust, dead silent, with no-one in sight and no chatter on the radio. He describes the experience as surreal.
  • Offscreen Moment of Awesome: Probationary firefighter Tony Benetatos heads off to the World Trade Center after the South Tower collapses with Larry Byrnes and Gédéon Naudet. Gédéon ends up separated from them, and it would not be until hours later that Tony returns alive, where it's discovered that he stayed behind to help find survivors at the site.
  • Oh, Crap!: Multiple times:
    • When the North Tower is hit, the firefighters can be heard off-screen shouting things like "Holy shit!"
    • Some of the interviewed firefighters reactions as they pulled up to the front of the North Tower:
      Firefighter Damian Van Cleaf: Wow. This... This is bad.
      Firefighter Joe Cassaliggi: What do we do? It's like... What do we do for this?
    • After the South Tower is hit, the mood of the people watching from the street shifts from astonishment to fear as they realize that this wasn't an accident.
    • When Jules sees Father Judge praying to himself, and starts to panic as a result.
    • Chief Pfeifer's eyes opening wide when he hears the tower beginning to rumble above them while standing in the North Tower's lobby.
  • Old Master: When retired Chief Larry Byrnes arrives, he immediately takes control of the situation, trying to send out his guys and calm them down despite three years away from the firehouse, because "They're my firefighters. It's my building. It's my city."
  • One-Woman Wail:
    • After the second tower falls, the firefighters all start heading back to the firehouse. The soundtrack features such a wail while shots of various New Yorkers dealing with the aftermath set the dour mood.
    • The soundtrack used when the brothers and Battalion 1 visit Ground Zero the next morning features this.
  • Out of Focus: The original subject of the documentary, Tony Benetatos, disappears from the film in the midst of the attacks. It's not until hours later that he returns alive.
  • Outrun the Fireball: Averted. No-one in the immediate area manages to outrun the dust cloud. When Jules manages to stand back up after the dust washes over him, he's completely coated.
  • Overcrank: Some of the footage is slowed down for effect, such as right before the first plane hits the World Trade Center.
  • Pietà Plagiarism: An actual, unplanned, real life example with the body of father Mychal Judge being carried out of the North Tower. (Safe for work, but sad.)
  • Point of View: Watching this is the closest most people will ever have to actually being there, since it's told from the point of view of several people in New York City during the attack, even one who was in the tower when it collapsed.
  • Practical Voice-Over: After major events take place, the shots of New York City are interspersed with voice-overs from news anchors talking about what's just happened.
  • Real Life Writes the Plot: It was originally just about a probationary firefighter. Then the attacks happened, and the footage became entirely about that day.
  • Right Behind Me: As the firefighters make their way back to the station, Gédéon has gotten there first, having had no choice but to return as he was not allowed to go to the site of the disaster and look for his brother Jules. Gédéon pesters the returning firefighters, asking if they've seen Jules or if they know where he is. Finally, one of the firefighters tells him "He's behind you," and Gédéon turns around to see his brother walking into the station, the two of them having missed each other at first. Cue them hugging and each shedding many Manly Tears of relief that the other is all right.
  • Right Man in the Wrong Place:
    • No-one would have blamed Jules if he had told the firefighters that he'd withdraw and return to their base while they handled this obviously major disaster. However, he not only followed them, but records: Chief Pfeifer's initial emergency call (the first such call from a responder that day), the situation at the North Tower in the minutes following the first impact, and the only known footage of what was happening inside the South and North Towers. The footage is also one of only two confirmed instances of video footage that actually showed American Airlines Flight 11 flying into the North Tower (pretty much everyone saw United Airlines Flight 175's impact with the South Tower just 17 minutes later since the TV stations were already covering the North Tower impact when it hit).
    • This is also exemplified in Jules' unedited footage, which was released through the Freedom of Information Act. He's asked at least twice by fire officials who he is and why he's filming in the lobby, but Chief Pfeifer tells them off by explaining that Jules is with him.
  • Run or Die: When the second tower collapses, the firefighters and the Naudet brothers all have to run like hell and jump behind some nearby cars to protect themselves from the oncoming dust cloud and debris.
  • Scare Chord: Each time a body impacts outside, the firefighters visibly jump. The impact is so loud and violent that it makes them jump every time.
  • Scare 'Em Straight: The films, pictures and survivors talking to the probies about their fire-related injuries is intended to make the probies always wait for backup, and not take too many unnecessary risks.
  • Scenery Gorn: Invoked, as Gédéon goes out specifically to film footage of the burning towers and the public's reactions. Later, he tries filming the disaster right after the towers have collapsed, only to be told to get back by emergency personnel. (The film footage here is incidental to him: he was trying to go back to see if Jules was alive. When he is turned back, he basically shuts down emotionally and tries to focus only on capture the images of the day.) The next day, both brothers film hours of footage of Ground Zero and the damage to the nearby streets and buildings.
  • Scream Discretion Shot: Invoked. When Jules enters the World Trade Center lobby, he sees two people on fire, screaming in pain. While the camera's microphone picks up their screams, Jules intentionally doesn't point his camera towards them.
    Jules: We go in... and right to my right, there is two people, on fire, burning. I just didn't want to film that. I thought "No-one should see this."
  • Screw This, I'm Out of Here!:
    • As soon as the South Tower collapses, Chief Pfeifer orders an immediate evacuation, and the firefighters he and Jules leave behind with Father Judge's body while looking for a way out end up exiting a different way without telling anyone.
      Chief Pfeifer: Command post, Tower 1, all units. Evacuate the building. Command post, to all units.
    • The remaining firefighters of Ladder 1 and Engine 7 reach the North Tower's command lobby, which was abandoned, and immediately decide to flee the immediate area around the towers.
  • Send in the Search Team: Subverted. As Chief Pfeifer and a group of other firefighters are preparing to go back in, the North Tower starts to collapse. At that point, the firefighters' objective turns into "run like hell." By the time the dust cloud has passed, there's no building to go back to.
  • Snipe Hunt: It could be that the whole reason the retired chief sent Gédéon back into the firehouse for latex gloves was to ditch him. He probably didn't know nor care about the documentary at the time, though he did obviously do an interview for it later.
  • Squad Nickname: Firefighters who rarely get calls for fires are called "white clouds". A new firefighter on his probationary period is called a "probie".
  • Stock Footage: The interstitial shots that begin and end each segment consist of stock clips of New York and the Towers.
  • Survivor Guilt: In the anniversary airings, several of the firefighters talk about how the experiences of that day have haunted them since then. When the firefighters return to the firehouse, Captain Dennis Tardio talks about the general air of "why did I live, when thousands more are dead?" that permeated the atmosphere for the following few days. One firefighter even mentions asking "why me?" when he made it home to his wife that night and began to cry.
  • Tagalong Reporter:
    • Chief Pfeifer allows Jules to come into the North Tower lobby with him and film the firefighters and command groups going up the tower. It turns out to be the only known footage recorded inside both towers that day. In addition, Jules managed to get one of only three known recordings of the first plane hitting the towers by sheer accident.
    • This subject is briefly discussed in the documentary, when Jules wonders aloud why Pfeifer let him come into the building with him, reasoning that it might have been useful for recording purposes (that, or the unsaid assumption that with debris falling from the building, it was simply safer to keep him with the other firefighters inside the building, despite his question to Pfeifer in the minutes after the first attack asking if he should go).
  • Talking Heads: The firefighters and filmmakers talking about what happened, detailing their thoughts and fears, occasionally intersperse the raw footage.
  • Tempting Fate: As noted in the page quote above, part of the film's first act revolves around Ladder 1 being repeatedly dispatched to false alarms, small-scale fires and other incidents that prompt several firefighters to comment on how nothing much of note is happening. That all changes when a routine gas leak unintentionally puts Ladder 1 in position to be the first group to respond to the North Tower once the initial attack occurs.
  • This Is Gonna Suck: The look on everyone's face almost immediately when the first plane hits.
    Firefighter John O'Neill: Right then and there, I knew this was gonna be the worst day of my life as a firefighter.
  • This Is Reality: A man on the street watching the towers burn says "...this is just like The Towering Inferno, like in a movie."
  • This Means War!: While at the station, Tony is heard muttering something to this effect after he finds out that the Pentagon has also been struck by a plane. During the film's conclusion, Tony says that he'd prefer to be a firefighter because "I like saving lives, not taking them", but he'd go fight in the Army if he had to because whoever knocked down the buildings just made it personal.
    Tony: The fucking Pentagon's on fire? War. This is war. [...] I can't believe... The fucking Pentagon. Somebody has balls.
  • You, Get Me Coffee: To his frustration, Tony is tasked with staying at the firehouse and manning the phones while the rest of the Battalion head out. The official instruction once the off-duty and reserve firefighters arrive is that they are also to wait on standby at the station, but they and Tony decide to ignore that and join in on the rescue effort.
  • Vomit Indiscretion Shot: When the firemen return to the firehouse, one of them can be seen stress-vomiting into a garbage can.
  • Vox Pops:
    • Gédéon films and gets interviews from several shocked citizens who are watching what's happening at the towers. One of the bystanders states that the first plane impact likely cut access to all of the elevators in the North Tower, which later was discovered to be the case.
    • After the towers are hit by planes, audio footage from random news networks is interspersed over the footage of what's happening at the time.
  • Wait Here: Tony is told to stay at the firehouse by the higher-ups, just in case anything else happens. However, he goes down the first opportunity he gets when former Fire Chief Larry Byrnes tells Tony to come with him.
  • Wham Shot: Jules panning up from Chief Pfeifer's investigation of the gas leak to see the first plane hitting the North Tower. This changes the entire nature of the documentary from one about Tony Benetatos and the NYC fire crews to what happened on 9/11. (As a matter of historical note: the footage captured in this shot by Jules is one of only three known recordings of the first plane impacting the World Trade Center on 9/11, and it's also by far the clearest footage of the three.)
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: It's probably a safe assumption that the gas smell that the fire crew was sent to check really was a false alarm, but we never find out.
  • "What Now?" Ending: It aired only six months after 9/11. The filmmakers were as stumped as all the viewers as to what was going to happen next.
  • Where Are They Now: By the time it was re-aired for the first, fifth, and tenth anniversaries of 9/11, CBS and the filmmakers had done a fair amount of follow-up. As of the most recent re-airing for the 20th anniversary, several of the firefighters featured in the documentary have died due to 9/11-related illnesses. On a brighter note, Jules has since married and has two children, and Tony Benetatos is now a lieutenant with the FDNY and has a family of his own. As for Chief Pfeifer, he rose up to the position of Assistant Chief before retiring in 2018, but returned to duty in 2023 upon being given the position of First Deputy Commissioner by the current FDNY Commissioner.
  • You, Get Me Coffee: The probie's job is to make the coffee.