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Wednesday, 4 September, 2002, 12:36 GMT 13:36 UK
WTC film-makers still positive
Gedeon Naudet, James Hanlon, Jules Naudet
Gedeon Naudet (left) and brother Jules (right) with firefighter James Hanlon

Considering that they might have died in one of the worst disasters of modern times, the French brothers Gedeon and Jules Naudet are remarkably cool and calm about what they saw and filmed at the World Trade Center on 11 September.

Their documentary was shown in the United States six months after the attack. On the first anniversary, it will be shown in 142 other countries.

They had been filming a story about a young New York firefighter in Manhattan waiting to tackle his first fire. They happened to be nearby when the attacks took place.

Positive aspects

Jules had gone out with a fire crew checking a suspected gas leak. They heard a plane. Jules panned his camera up and remembers how he even saw the American Airlines logo on the aircraft.

The catastrophic first impact
The catastrophic first impact
It was he who took the now famous shot of that first plane smashing into the North Tower.

He then followed the firefighters into the building. Gedeon left the safety of the firehouse to get close to the action. He saw the towers fall. Each brother thought the other might well have died.

In an interview with BBC News Online, Gedeon and Jules constantly stressed the positive aspects of that day.

They emphasised how many people were saved and rejected suggestions that the firefighters were in "chaos".

The firefighters, they said, were following a plan - to get people out, to stop fire from spreading and to try to put it out.

"I didn't see anyone panicking," said Jules. "That's why 25,000 people survived."

Thanked for discretion

They pointed out that, despite problems with their radios, all the firefighters from the group they were following, had heard a call to evacuate the building and had escaped.

And they reported that, after the documentary was broadcast in the United States, relatives of the victims had contacted them to thank them for their discretion in not showing any of the dead.

Gedeon said that there had been controversy before the programme, but not afterwards: "There was this rumour going around that the footage we had shot was absolutely horrible and that we had filmed carnage and body parts and people dying in front of the camera.

"This was absolutely not what we did."

He said that they had sent tapes to all the relatives of firefighters seen in the film. Those relatives had seen their loved ones not panicking and not in fear but doing the job they loved.

"I believe it made those families feel a bit better," he said.

New York fireman
New York firemen were praised for their bravery
In fact, they avoided even filming the worst of what they saw - people on fire in the lobby of the first tower hit, the bodies of people who had fallen or had jumped from the top floors. The sound of those bodies falling is heard in the film and that is enough.

Jules said: "As I entered the building I heard a scream on my right and just glanced and saw that horrible image of these two people who were still alive, still moving but completely engulfed in flames and are dying in front of my eyes.

Emotion swings

"It was not something to film."

They spoke with great emotion even a year on about how they were reunited. Gedeon had got back to the firehouse first.

"I was waiting for Jules for almost three hours at the firehouse. All the firemen were coming back. One by one I asked them: 'Have you seen Jules?'

Exhausted firefighters return to base
Exhausted firefighters return to base
"Every time, it was the same answer, the same look saying 'sorry'. Then one of them told me: 'Are you crazy? He's just behind you!'"

Jules added: "You go from extreme sadness to extreme joy."

The brothers have kept in touch with the firefighters. Jules commented: "I think there's a tremendous amount of survival guilt - it's not easy. They start asking themselves: 'Why me and not the guy next to me who had four or five children?'

"I think the firefighters are a very tight community - they're really a family, a brotherhood. To be able at least to have each other and I think that's how most of the firefighters dealt with it."


They said that a few of the older firefighters have since retired. Chief Pfeiffer, with whom Jules shared the dangers of the North Tower, has been promoted, and the rookie firefighter they had been following has joined an elite firefighting team set up specifically to tackle terrorist alerts.

Gedeon said: "He is an incredible guy."

By constantly talking about their experiences, the brothers seem to have been through a long process of therapy and can now contemplate other projects, which will deliberately seek to show human nature in its positive form.

That, they say, is what they set out to do in their films.

Despite everything, Jules and Gedeon Naudet remain optimists.

Firefighters Association

9/11 was broadcast on BBC One on 11 September 2002 at 1930 GMT / 2030 BST.

New York despatches





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